Inside a Fire

Being in a house fire can be a very scary experience for a child. If they have not been told what to expect, many children may panic under the pressure, or freeze up and hide. It is important you let them know what they will be dealing with.

A house fire will be dark. It is not like what you see in the movies. It will be pitch black, except for the flames, which will be a glowing orange through the smoke, and won’t provide much help for light. It will be hot. Floor temperature in a room with a fire is usually 100 degrees. At head level it can be as much as 800 degrees. Simply breathing in this air can scorch a person’s lungs, killing them almost instantly. Explain to your children the following about fire:

  • You probably will not be able to see very well. There will be a lot of smoke, and you might not be able to see more than a foot in front of you. It may also sting your eyes to open them. So if you need to, you can just take quick looks to make sure there is no fire where you need to go, and then shut them again.
  • It will be a little bit scary. Just try not to be scared and do what you need to do. Do what you were taught, and you will be safe.
  • You will have to stay low everywhere you go. In a fire, all of the heat and bad smoke goes to the top, towards the ceiling. You will need to stay as low to the ground as you can.
  • Teach children that fire is hot, fire is fast, fire is dark, and fire is deadly!

The Importance of Time in a Fire

Time is an occupant’s worst enemy in a fire. Fire spreads extremely fast. A simple trash can flame can spread to the entire house in the matter of minutes or even seconds. A hesitation to get out the minute you hear the smoke detector could cost you your life, especially since by the time the smoke detector goes off, the fire is often well underway. Children need to understand how important the concept of time is in a fire. Teach them:

  • How quickly fire can spread, and how important it is to get out, and get out as quick as they can.
  • Tell them not to bother to get dressed when they hear the smoke alarm. Just get out quick, exactly as they are.
  • Teach all children three and up that if the smoke alarm sounds and there is no adult around, it is OK to leave the house alone. They should either go to their meeting spot or to a next door neighbor for help. This is the only time it’s OK to leave the house on their own.
  • Teach them: Do not bring anything with you or try to look for things. The only thing worth saving is yourself. It is the only thing we can’t get replace.
  • Don’t try to look for where the fire is, just get out.
  • Don’t go to your parents’ room or look for your mom or dad or brother or sister. They will get out on their own. You just need to get out quickly.
  • Once you are out of the house, do not go back in for anything!!!! The firefighters will soon be there, and they can go back for anything you forgot with their special suits. Stay out, and stay away. Go to your meeting place with your parents. Tell the firefighters of any other people that may still be in the house.
  • Give kids an illustration of how quickly fire can spread. Time them, during playtime or other activities, at intervals between 1 and 2 minutes. Let them know that’s how quickly fire can spread, and that is how quick they need to get out when they hear the smoke alarm or see a fire.

Teaching children how to escape a fire in their home

Escaping a Fire – Step One: Fire crawl

There are two fire crawls you should teach children that are fairly simple. The most basic and most commonly used is to get down on all fours like a dog, and then drop your forearms to the ground, and crawl on them with your nose to the floor like a dog sniffing something, like this:

fire crawl

The second type of fire crawl is only if the heat is too intense to have your rear end up in the air. This is similar, only instead of crawling on your knees, you press your legs flat on the floor, and use your forearms and leg motion to crawl around like a snake, like this:

flat fire-crawl

Teach children the two different types of fire crawls, and practice with them. You can make some fun out of it by creating obstacle courses around your house for them to do the fire crawl with.

In teaching kids these things, make sure they understand that they should only crawl if they have to. If they can walk with their head low and still breathe OK, they should do that. Fire crawls are only for when the smoke and heat are so thick that you need to stay low to the floor.

Escaping a Fire Step Two: The bed roll

The difference between the temperature at bed level and that towards the ceiling if a child sits up can be as much as a few hundred degrees in a fire. Because of this, children should learn how to roll out of their bed in the event of a fire.

First – Turn over or roll in your bed so that your head is by the side and facing down to the floor.

Second – Put the hand that is closest to that side of the bed down, and slide yourself gently to the floor.

fire bed roll

Have children practice this a few times on their own bed to get used to it. If possible, set off your fire alarm while doing it, so that they learn to associate that sound with rolling out of their bed.

 

Escaping a Fire Step Three: Checking Doors

A flash-over occurs when a fire is suddenly supplied with fresh oxygen. It creates an explosion-like force that will consume a room. When a fire is burning in a room with a door closed, there may be little or no smoke actually coming through the bottom of the door. After all, smoke rises. That door is creating a natural barrier to the other side. But when that door is opened, it will supply the fire with a breath of fresh oxygen and create an explosive force that will instantly ignite the room.

  • Teach children how to test a door. Tell them to press the back of their hand against the door. If it feels hot to the touch, do not open it. If it feels cool or just a little bit warm, crack open the door slightly and peek beyond it. If everything is clear, proceed and close the door behind you. It’s important to close the door to slow the progress of the fire. Tell them to do this on every closed door they encounter.
  • Teach children to always open doors slowly, putting their shoulder against the door. If they see the fire right outside or lots of smoke suddenly comes in, shut the door immediately and choose another way.
  • Have your children test a door in your house under normal circumstances. Let them get a good idea for how it feels, so that they will not be unsure in a fire. Have them practice the technique for slowly opening it.

Escaping a Fire Step Four: If trapped

If a child’s way out is blocked, then they should revert to a secondary route. If there are no good secondary routes, they should…

  • Get to a room with a window outside, and a door. If they can get to a room on the main floor, do it. Close the door, and go to the window.
  • If not, return to their room, and close the door to their bedroom, to create a natural barrier for the fire to buy more time.
  • Open the window to the room they are in. If they are on the first level or basement, and can climb out the window safely, do so.
  • If they are not on the first level, they should open their window enough so that they can breathe and yell. They should stay at the window as long as they can and yell for help. Wave a towel or piece of clothing to let firefighters know where you are.
  • You can teach older children to make an escape using a fire ladder if it is available.
  • Teach children how to open windows in your house, and make sure they can do it. Be sure to emphasize they are only to do this in a fire, and let them know they are never to mess with the windows unless it is an emergency.

Parent Tip: If ever you’re caught in a fire, a braw makes a great impromptu smoke mask. Most cups are sized perfectly to cover the nose and mouth, keeping harmful particles out of your lungs. You can also tie the straps around your head for hands-free use. Don’t waist time looking for a braw, but if you’re trapped, or if you have one handy, it can help.

Escaping a Fire Step Five: Get out and stay out

Emphasize this point over and over again: once children get out of the house, they are to stay outside. They do not go back in for anything. Not if they forgot their doll or favorite toy, not if they can’t find their parents, not even if their brother or sister may be inside. They should be told that the other children have the same training and they may already be outside, and their parents are capable of getting out on their own. Once they are out of the house, they stay out. The only people who go back in are the firefighters.

  • Explain to children how quickly fire spreads. Once they get out, there is no way they would have enough time to go back inside and get out again. They would die … period.
  • Explain to children that in a house fire, firefighters will be on their way. It is the firefighters’ job to go inside the house and put out the fire, and to rescue anyone still inside.