Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Doing a family fire escape plan for kids with special needs

Max knows some safety basics: to dial 911 in case of emergency, and to stop, drop and roll if his clothing is ever on fire. Still, we had never put together a home fire escape plan for our family and it was time, especially since Max (make that Fireman Max, as he prefers to be called) and I are ambassadors for Kidde. This is Fire Prevention Week, established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the theme is Hear The Beep When You Sleep—as in, every bedroom needs a working smoke alarm.

When our local Fire Chief, Joe, and several firefighters came by to do a home fire safety inspection, we got guidance on a family fire escape plan.

Chief Joe was pleased to see our hallways are clutter-free, key for a quick escape in case of fire. He told us that he would place Max on a Special Alert list. Our fire department keeps a list of disabled and elderly people and where their bedrooms are located in the house; chances are your local fire station does, too, so it's worth the call.

The best thing to do if smoke alarms go off, Chief Joe said: Every one should yell, get out of the house and meet in a planned area—in our case, we decided, the neighbor's house next door. Max is getting pretty good at walking down the stairs on his own. If there was not much visible smoke and he was in his room, he would be able to get downstairs, although one of us would need to be around to unlock the front door for him.

The more dire scenario: If there is very thick smoke in a hallway, what Chief Joe called a "fire ceiling." A child sleeping with his bedroom door already closed (the safest way to sleep) could feel the doorway with the back of his hand to check for heat and know that if it's hot, to stay inside a bedroom. We've been repeatedly mentioning that to Max to help hammer it into him.

If a child has a door open, then he needs to close it (and ideally, open a window, although that's not a possibility for a kid with fine-motor impairment like Max). Chief Joe sat on Max's bed and explained to him that if there ever was a lot of smoke, he'd need to close the door. We asked Max to show us what he'd do, and he obligingly walked over to his door and shut it.

It was sobering to hear Chief Joe say that if Dave and I ever woke up to a very thick smoke situation, it would be best to call 911, go out a window onto the roof, yell and not try to retrieve either of the kids, as we could be overcome by smoke. The fire department immediately does a walk-around when they arrive, he explained, and we could then tell them about the kids. I had a couple of sleepless nights thinking about that scenario, but these are the tough things you need to discuss when you have kids, especially one with disabilities.

If you have a child in a wheelchair, it's ideal to designate one adult to be in charge of him or her. Safe Kids Worldwide, a partner of Kidde, has a really helpful video on this: Fire Safety For Families With Children Who Are Immobile.

Children with autism or cognitive impairment may benefit from a visual fire plan involving photos; see Fire Safety For Families With Children With Cognitive Impairments.

Got a child with a visual or hearing impairment? Here's an excellent video on a fire escape plan.

After the firefighters left, the kids and I walked through the house, noting all exits. I drew out a simplified map of our home on this Kidde graph, showing escape routes from each room to the outside. And at the recommendation of Chief Joe, we got two Kidde Escape Ladders, one for our second floor and one for our third.

The escape ladder we keep beneath our bed—my favorite new home accessory
Chief Joe told us how his dad used to make his family do practice runs on their escape ladder. I'm holding off until I'm no longer pregnant to practice, but already I have major peace of mind from having them—along with a solid fire escape plan.

More from the fire safety series from me and Fireman Max:

9 summer fire safety tips for outdoor fun

What we learned from our home fire safety inspection

Protecting your family from a home fire: 9 things you probably never knew

For more information, check out: 

Kidde on Facebook
@KiddeSafety on Twitter
@kiddefiresafety on Instagram

This post is one in a series sponsored by Kidde, for whom I am a compensated ambassador. 

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