As firefighters, are we doing our job when it comes to fire prevention? Across the country firefighters conduct an almost endless variety of fire prevention programs in front of elementary school children. We talk to the children, show them videos and run them through bedroom mock-ups to teach them how to escape their homes in the event of a fire. These programs are designed to make the children safer at home, which is where the majority of fire deaths occur. But do these school-delivered messages actually make it home, and do our messages lead to appropriate action in the case of fire? Sadly, in many (if not most) cases, the answer to both questions is no. It is this failure to "carry the message home" that is the weakness of most school-based fire prevention programs.
Teaching in the firehouse or the classroom, we certainly can't set the family's meeting place in the event of a fire. And when a child looks at the second way out of a room in their home, the bedroom window on which they practice in our simulators typically isn't like their actual bedroom windows in form, and they usually don't unlock the same way. We can't make sure that their windows will actually open, or that they aren't nailed or painted shut. Further, if kids sleep above ground level, how do they get from the second- or third-story bedroom window to the ground, if that is their second way out? I could go on, but you get the point. To be most effective, the true fire safety talk must happen at home among all members of the family.
So what can we-as firefighters-do to facilitate this talk, ensuring that children carry the fire safety message home and that parents discuss fire safety with their children? The approach I'm advocating, and which is now used in the Iowa City Fire Department, involves fire safety "homework" that teachers send home with kids on the day of the fire department safety talk. The homework involves parent participation and requires a parent signature for completion. And because it is "homework," kids are held accountable for its completion.
The following is a copy of the worksheet we provide to teachers to send home with students as fire prevention homework. Feel free to copy and modify the fire safety homework sheet to suit the needs of your area.
We in the Iowa City community are fortunate to enjoy a very positive relationship with the teachers and administrators of the public and private schools in our fire districts. When the fire safety homework was first introduced, I was expecting a lukewarm "acceptance" at best. Fortunately, I was overwhelmed by the positive response. Every person I talked with immediately understood the importance of what we were trying to accomplish. The teachers were even happy to track the completed worksheets and follow up with students who didn't return theirs.
An Added Benefit
In addition to the obvious life safety benefits, the fire prevention homework is a great marketing and public relations opportunity for fire departments, particularly during a time of limited tax funding. Bring the idea to your next school PTA meeting, then get your local media outlets to cover your efforts. If we are to remain relevant (and appropriately funded), we must show the citizens that we make efforts like this on their behalf.
If the entire array of puppet shows, clown programs, public speaking, show and tell, storytime with firefighters, and other fire safety talks is to be made worth the money and effort that we spend upon them, we must get the children to "carry the message home."
Sidebar - MY FIRE SAFETY HOMEWORK
Parents, please help your child complete this homework and return it to their classroom.
1. I had my parents set off the smoke detector so I could hear what it sounded like, and it sounded …
2. I learned at least two ways out of my house. They are …
3. I practiced rolling out of my own bed, and it was …
4. If the second way out of my bedroom is a window, my parents watched me unlock and open it. It was … _______________________________________________________________________
5. Since sleeping with the bedroom door fully closed is much safer in the event of a fire, I talked to my parents about it and they … _____________________________________________________________________________________________________
6. I talked with my family about a Meeting Place in the event of a fire. We agreed that it would be at … ________________________________________________________________________
7. If the second way out of my bedroom is a second story (or higher) window, I have a rope or ladder to climb down, and my parents told me … _______________________________________________________________________________
8. If the second way out of my bedroom is a basement window, I have an easy way to climb up to the window and get out. This is how … _____________________________________________
9. I have memorized my home address and telephone number. They are … ___________________________________________
10. The closest fire station to my home is located at ...
11. The batteries in the smoke detectors were last changed …
12. We have at least one smoke detector on each level of our home and it/they are located … ______________________________________________________________________________
13. We practiced our Home Fire Exit Drill and it went …
14. I learned that most fire deaths occur when...
15. I also learned that most fire deaths occur in ...
16. And the cause of most fire deaths is ...
17. Kids, read aloud the following to your parents:
The Iowa City Fire Department has a proud tradition of fighting fires, and an equally proud (though less known) tradition of preventing them. Getting our fire safety message in front of busy parents encourages them to take action on such things as:
• Replacement of smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector batteries at least once a year.
• Ensure that the address numbers on your home are visible from the street and easy to find; also have apartment numbers in the hall.
• Physically replace any smoke detectors that are more than 10 years old.
• Never leave cooking unattended.
• Use an extension cord only for temporary events, such as drilling a hole. Power strips or permanent wiring should be used for most other applications.
• Staying on top of general housekeeping can limit the combustible (clutter) and flammable products in your home and garage.
• If you smoke, keep matches and lighters on your person or locked away.
• Never leave the room with a candle still lit.
• Keep at least three feet of space around any type of space heater.
• Sleep with your bedroom doors fully closed to help keep smoke out in the event of a fire.
Now I am safer in the event of a fire!
Parent Signature: ______________________________________
If you or your family have a question regarding fire safety, please call the Iowa City Fire Marshal at 319-356-5257 or Iowa City Fire Station #3 at 319-356-5263.