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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

Man has always been fascinated by fire, and kids are particularly so. Several years ago, my friend’s child, a curious, mischievous boy was playing with some matches in the garage. He accidentally ignited an old rag and the fire quickly spread to boxes stored in the garage. The child fled, and the fire eventually consumed the garage, and then the entire house. The family got out safely, but their house and possessions lay in ruins.

This family’s story unfortunately isn’t unique. Child death rates by fire are highest for children under age four, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Rates of injury decline for children in the early elementary age, but rise again for children between the ages of 9 and 12. Boys are more likely to be injured by fire than girls.

Injuries and property damage commonly occur when children are experimenting with matches, lighters or candles. And all it takes is one match. As Christy Whitehead once observed, “How is it that one match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box of matches to start a campfire?

Fire prevention starts when children are very young. Even 3-and 4-year olds can understand basic safety concepts. Spend some time educating your child about the dangers of fire for your own piece of mind – and your child’s safety.

  1. Keep matches and lighters well out of reach of children, and teach children from an early age that they are off-limits, period. Do not allow children to burn candles in their bedrooms and always put out candles before you leave the house.
  2. Teach your child to get an adult if another child is playing with matches or lighters. This is one time when being a tattle-tale is a good thing. It just may save a life.
  3. Show your child how to call 9-1-1. Teach your child your phone number and address to relay to emergency personnel. Post your address near the phone, as well. This is usually the first piece of information the operator asks for.
  4. Develop a fire escape route map of your home that provides two exits from each room. Discuss the escape routes with your family and conduct fire drills several times per year. Designate a meeting area at a neighbor’s home where everyone should go in the event of a fire.
  5. Learn the basics of putting out a fire. Teach your child how to “Stop, Drop and Roll,” if clothes catch on fire. Small fires can be put out by shoveling dirt on them or smothering them with a heavy blanket or cloth.
  6. As older children learn to cook, teach them how to prevent kitchen fires. Never leave cooking food unattended and avoid placing flammable items, such as hot pads, on hot surfaces. My friend’s teenager once caught the microwave on fire when he left popcorn cooking unattended. Hot oil is another common source of kitchen fires. Turn pot handles towards the inside of the stove.
  7. Use space heaters very cautiously. Space heaters are the leading cause of fire-related deaths during the winter, and are especially dangerous in children’s rooms. Children may lay clothing over or around them, increasing the risk of fire danger.

Teaching your kids the basics of fire safety may seem like a big task, but you don’t have to do it alone. Many fire departments offer fun, interesting classes for kids. Check your local library: they may offer story times, videos or books that explain fire safety.

photo of authorAuthor Bio: Karen Ho Fatt is a professional interior designer and writer, living in the Canadian countryside. She maintains a website that offers information on family outdoor fire furnishings such as the Blue Rhino line of fire pits. She offers tutorials on how your family can use and decorate with fire pits safely.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want their kids to be safe with fire.