By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross volunteer
If I close my eyes, I can still see the flames shooting out from the windows of the house across the street. I can hear the agonized screams that drew us to our own windows that night to see what had happened. I was five years old, and that was my first experience of sheer terror – both someone else’s and my own.
Believe it or not, no one got hurt that night. Both of the senior sisters who shared the home had escaped the fire, one out the front door, one out the back. Their screams were the agony of each believing the other to still be trapped in the inferno. When neighbors reunited them, they fell sobbing into each other’s arms.
No one is ever fully prepared for disaster, but families can plan together to minimize the suffering. What if the sisters had had a plan? Would that night have gone differently had they designated a meeting spot in case they got separated in an emergency?
As foster parents, it’s required that we have a clear escape plan in case of disaster, one that everyone in the family can understand and remember. Even young children can learn what to do. All the students in the school where I taught, ages four through 14, practiced how to exit the school if there was a fire, how to exit a bus in an emergency, and what to do if a tornado was headed toward our neighborhood.
So I wasn’t prepared for the day my class of four-year-olds sat on the story carpet, listening to my assistant talk about emergencies. They raised their hands eagerly to share what they knew about fire drills. Stay in line. Walk, don’t run. Remain silent. Wait in our class’ spot on the corner until we got the “all clear” to return to our room. They had it all right.
“But what if an emergency happened at home?” my assistant asked.
“If a bad man comes in the house, you hide in the closet,” one child announced. Others nodded in agreement.
“What if a tornado is coming?” she asked.
“You run outside,” another child responded. More nods. I made a mental note to teach about tornado safety in the near future.
“What if you smelled smoke in your house or saw that something was on fire?” she quizzed.
“You call 911,” a student said confidently. “Yes, but what do you do before that?” she asked.
“Hide in the closet,” he said. The other children agreed.
Hide in the closet. Images of that house fire from years ago leaped into my head. And I imagined children inside, hiding in the closet.
We did a lot of learning and practicing that day. We sent the students home with information for their parents to use in creating family safety plans.
You can find information about keeping children safe on the American Red Cross website at https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/fire/fire-safety-for-kids.html.
Don’t put it off. Create your own plan today!
Great article, Beth. I reposted your article on Facebook and one of my sons posed the same fire question to my five-year-old granddaughter. Her response was “I’d hide under a blanket and read a book.” Thanks for starting the conversation.