Fire Safety Tips For Kids: Learning How To Call For Help In A Fire Emergency

During a fire emergency, children need to know how to call for help on their own. Here are some suggestions for training kids.

Most school systems teach children how to evacuate the building during a fire, and they regularly hold full-scale fire drills for practice. Unfortunately, many private homeowners fail to extend these instructions to their homes. Children need to understand how to properly escape a home fire, including such important elements as designating a rally point, crawling along the floor for cleaner air and checking doors for heat before opening them. Children who find themselves trapped behind flames must know when to remain in place and when to make an escape. Parents should encourage children to get outside immediately and allow the firemen to do their jobs. Trained adults can retrieve pets or anything else of value- children should be taught to NEVER re-enter a burning building for any reason.

But one important element of fire safety often gets taken for granted. Parents may assume that a child can call 911 in an emergency, but they rarely put that skill to a test. Small children may not feel comfortable making an important call to an adult they don't know. Some children rarely if ever use the house phone except to answer it. Making a phone call can be very intimidating to a child not usually permitted to use mommy and daddy's phone. With the advent of cordless or cellular phones, the process of making an emergency call can be even more daunting to a small child.

First off, parents need to take the fear out of using a telephone for important reasons. Although a small child may occasionally make an expensive long-distance phone call by mistake, parents should not create an intimidating atmosphere where phones are concerned. A child needs to understand that he or she can always use the phone to call for a policeman or a fireman. While training a child to properly answer a phone, include a brief lesson on dialing 0 for an operator or 911 if the house is on fire or something very bad is happening. Have an imaginary conversation with the child on a play phone. After teaching him or her to dial the numbers 9-1-1, play the role of an emergency dispatcher, beginning with the line "911, where is your emergency?" Children who cannot recite their home address from memory may not respond with useful information at first, but the 911 center should have their own address information on file. Continue to ask your child questions about the emergency: Is there smoke in your house? Where are your Mommy and Daddy? Do you have any brothers or sisters? Can you go outside and wait for the big red truck? Parents who role play should try to be as realistic as possible, in order to give the child a sense of what a stranger might ask them about the emergency.



Making an actual 911 call is not a good idea, because it will tie up the dispatcher and possibly delay a response to a genuine emergency, and can result in hefty fines for that reason. But adults can still point out the numbers on a real phone and simulate an emergency phone call with a friend already on the other line. During an established phone call, a child can dial 911 and have the same imaginary phone call with a knowledgeable adult. Any real-life simulation of an emergency call can help children overcome their natural fears of using the phone.

If a child is comfortable with using a phone, then the lesson should change to issues of personal safety. If a child is awakened by a fire alarm and smells smoke, getting out of the house quickly may be the best solution. Someone else can make the phone call from a safer location. But if a child is alone or unable to escape quickly, it may be better for him or her to make the call to 911. Dispatchers can offer the child some advice on being safe or direct rescuers to the child's location in the home. If the child has access to a cordless phone or cellular phone, parents should encourage him or her to continue on a escape route while speaking with the 911 dispatcher. A child should always know when it's better to stay on the line or abandon the call in order to escape safely. Children must understand that they don't have to be heroic during a fire- other people with protective clothing can take care of rescues. Once a child has called 911 and the dispatcher says the firemen are on their way, he or she is free to go to the neighbor's house or the rallying point.

A family fire drill should always include a mock phone call to 911 as part of the exercise. Disconnect the phone line briefly and announce loudly that a room in the house is on fire and everyone needs to get out. Assign one of the children to call 911 on the disconnected phone. Obviously you won't be able to simulate the entire 911 scenario, but the child should be able to pick up the phone, dial 911 and drop the receiver on the way out. Once all of the family members have left the house and are together at the designated meeting point, parents can ask their children about the experience. Did they stay away from the room that was on fire? Could they find the telephone and dial 911? Did they remember to check door knobs for heat and stay low to the ground? If the children felt safe enough to dial the phone, then you've succeeded in teaching them how to react in a real emergency.

If the phone were located too close to the fire for safety, then the children should also realize they didn't HAVE to make the phone call. They should tell their parents whether or not a phone call was made, but they shouldn't feel they have to be especially heroic during a fire emergency.

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