Plan Ahead to Prevent Getting Burned
Our little blaze lit the fire under our family to do some fire safety education and fire prevention planning.
As I changed our sleepy 3-year-old out of his bed-wet clothes, I noticed our 2-year old standing outside the bathroom door looking into the dining room with big eyes. I peeked out to see what was so captivating and saw one of my biggest fears turned into reality.
Our Advent wreath was a ring of fire on the table, flames licking the ceiling.
Thick smoke was beginning to fill the room, but the alarm, just 10 feet away, had not yet sounded. I grabbed the kitchen fire extinguisher and blasted the blaze, emptying the cylinder.
With embers still glowing and plenty of smoke still curling out of the charred wreath, I grabbed my cellphone off the table and dialed 911**. Dragging two half-dressed toddlers and a baby outside in 6°F weather was not easy. They were freaking out and heavily resisting the cold.
Two Florissant Police officers arrived first, gave us plastic warming blankets, and disposed of the wreath. Thankfully, neighbors came over and offered to let us sit in their house until the Florissant Valley Fire Department cleared us to go back into the house to get any necessary items and assess the damage.
Our tabletop and the things lying on it were burned, but nothing else in the room had ignited. While the fire extinguisher had done its job, a thick white powder blanketed everything in the room and ended up being spread through the house by foot and furnace.
We still don't know for sure, but we think one of the ribbons on the wreath was sticking up high enough for the smallest candle’s flame to catch when the flame flickered.
We contracted different services to take care of the cleanup and were back in our home in a week. However, dealings with the insurance company and service providers dragged on for months and caused many headaches.
Since the fire, we have made it a goal to teach our children about fire safety and develop the Jansen Family Fire Safety Plan, which includes:
- A floor plan of the house listing two ways to get out of each room
- A fixed meeting place out of the house for our family to gather and do a head count
- Practicing our fire escape plan twice a year
- Installing and checking smoke detectors, one on each level of the house and near the bedrooms.
- Sleeping with doors closed to hinder smoke from overpowering the kids and giving the firefighters extra time for rescue
Recently my brother-in-law, a volunteer firefighter, came over for a “fire safety” night with our family. He went through the house with us and helped us plan escape routes, check windows and smoke detectors, and taught the kids what to do in certain scenarios, such as if their clothes caught on fire (stop, drop and roll).
Other skills we taught our kids were:
- How to crawl under smoke
- Not to open a door if the door or handle feels hot
- How to breathe out of a cracked window to get fresh air if they can’t get through the window
For those residents who don't happen to have a volunteer firefighter for a brother-in-law, Florissant Valley Fire Marshal Steve Gettimeier is willing to come to your home to do a walk-through and help create a fire safety plan.
He also shared the following tips with me:
- When you are cooking in the kitchen, stay in the kitchen. Don’t leave the area if you are frying, grilling or broiling foods.
- Give space heaters plenty of space. Keep it at least three feet away from everything. If you leave the room or go to sleep, turn the heaters off.
- Smoke outdoors. Have sturdy and deep ashtrays, always extinguish the smoking material before leaving the area, and don’t toss smoking material in yard or landscape areas.
- Keep matches and lighters out of reach. Keep them up high or in a cabinet with a child lock.
- Inspect electrical cords. Replace cords that have cracked or damage to the insulation around the cord. Replace if the cord has broken plug ends or any loose connections.
- Be very careful when using candles. Keep at least one foot away from everything, have a sturdy base for the candle to rest in, and blow out candle if you leave the room or go to sleep.
For more tips on how to create a home fire escape plan, see the pdf attached to this article or visit the U.S. Fire Administration page about fire escape planning and prevention specifically for babies and toddlers who may not be able to get out on their own.
For a fun way to teach kids about fire safety, Scholastic has a fire safety website where kids can play games, read interactive stories and quiz themselves on fire safety. They also have a page full of fire safety resources for teachers and parents.
With a year between us and the fire incident, we are not only able to see clearly what action we need to take to prevent future fires, but we are able to share some laughs about it.
After things settled down, someone asked the boys, “What was the first thing mommy said during the fire?” The 3-year-old responded, “Mommy yelled, ‘Go put on some underwear!’”
*My first mistake was leaving the candles burning when I briefly stepped out of the room.
**We found out later, I should have left my phone where it was and dialed 911 from a neighbor’s house as soon as possible.