Teaching fire safety to children is critical, especially to kids aged four and younger.
According to the United States Fire Administration's National Fire Incident Reporting System, children in that age group account for about 52 percent of all child deaths due to fire nationwide.
Fire-related injuries are also highest in the 4 and under age group. Such injuries decline in the middle years, but rise again in the 10 to 14 age group. The risk of a fire-related death is higher for both boys and African-American children.
To prevent such tragedies, parents can take a few simple steps to educate their children about fire safety.
“The best fire is the fire that didn't happen,” said Mike Erfert, Yuma Fire Department public information officer.
“A huge one is to teach the difference between ‘tools' and ‘toys.' Toys are things kids can play with, tools (and especially fire-starting tools) are for adults.”
Many fire-starting tools appear to look like toys, “especially novelty lighters that may be shaped like cartoon characters or other items attractive to children,” Erfert noted.
“Children should be taught that fire-starting tools are special tools that are not for them to touch. If they find a lighter or matches, they should tell an adult but not touch them.”
In addition, parents and guardians “need to do their part by keeping fire starting tools secure and locked up,” Erfert continued.
“They also need to set a good example and not ‘play' with fire themselves. Matches and lighters need to be taken seriously. You hopefully wouldn't leave a loaded firearm where kids could find and play with it, so why let a lighter or matches, that can start a fire which can destroy a house and kill a family, lay around unsecured?”
It is important children understand the serious nature of fire because they are “naturally curious about fire,” Erfert added.
“After all, it is something almost magical to them. Most juvenile fire setters are ‘curious' fire setters and are experimenting, mistakenly thinking they can control the fire. Studies have shown that most curious fire setters would not set a fire if they didn't have ready access to fire-starting tools. That is where keeping them locked up, out of sight out of mind, is so important.”
Another important topic to speak with children about is fireworks.
“Playing with fire includes fireworks,” Erfert said. “We have a saying that ‘fireworks is fire play.' Even where fireworks are legal, you have to ask yourself the question – just because you can, should you? All fireworks, even the ‘innocent sparkler,' burn at a thousand degrees or more. Don't be surprised when the child who is allowed to play with fireworks, starts to play with fire in other ways.”
And while fire prevention is important, children must also be taught what to do during a fire.
“What if the worst happens and there is a fire?” Erfert said. “That is where things like ‘Stop, Drop, and Roll' come into play. You ‘Stop' because running around just makes the fire grow bigger. You ‘Drop' and ‘Roll' while covering your face, to snuff out the fire by depriving it of oxygen.”
Parents and guardians should also teach their children fire evacuation procedures using the E.D.I.T.H. (Exit Drills In The Home) method.
“E.D.I.T.H. is important for parents to learn, teach, and practice with their children,” Erfert said.
“Draw up a diagram of your home, show the location of smoke alarms and two ways out of every room, in case the primary way is blocked. Teach kids to feel a door before they open it, checking to see if it is hot,” which might indicate a fire on the other side.
Also teach children to go to a safe meeting place once they have exited the home, and once safely outside to call 911 or report the incident to an adult who can make the emergency phone call.
“Have a designated meeting place that everyone knows to go to – the mailbox at the curb, the neighbor's tree across the street, etc. – to wait for the fire department to arrive,” Erfert said.
“That way you know everyone got out safely and you can tell the firefighters when they arrive. Once you get out, STAY OUT. Many people who safely escape a fire are hurt or killed going back in after possessions.”
Concerned parents are encouraged to contact personnel with the Yuma Fire Department, who can help provide fire safety guidance to children.
“Someone can always stop in at a fire station and speak with the firefighters,” Erfert said, noting YFD personnel “offer lots of public education topics and will come out to schools, civic groups, or other organizations to give classes on topics like compression only CPR, emergency preparedness, injury prevention and even fire safety.”
To schedule a class, call the YFD fire administration at 373-4850.