Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Fire, fire! Getting your kids involved in your home's fire plan!

This post is sponsored by Nuffnang.

I was recently offered the opportunity to be involved in a Victorian Department of Justice Fire Awareness Campaign!

I jumped at the opportunity because I believe this is an important issue that every family, especially those with children, should seriously consider!

Fires scare me. Burning to death is my greatest fear.

I have one distant cousin who was badly burned while playing in a packing crate -in the snow! - with his friends.

As well as this, my brother and I, and our four year old cousin narrowly avoided dying in a fire when I was eleven. I joke about burning a house down, but the truth of the event was potentially horrific.

Living in metropolitan Melbourne, we often feel safe from fires such as the one Victoria witnessed on Black Saturday two years ago. This is a false sense of security. One of the Country Fire Association (CFA) fire myths states:

  1. MYTH: If you live in a residential suburban area you’re safe.

    FACT: Even on the urban fringe you are at risk of fire. In strong winds, embers can travel up to 35 kilometres in front of a fire, starting new fires. People who travel or holiday in high risk bushfire areas are also at risk of bushfire. Even people considering a day trip should be prepared. 

Many Victorians live 'on the urban fringe' in this ever sprawling city, and in a couple of weeks, many Victorians will also be taking off for the Easter holidays to make the most of the last warm days of the season.

Having a plan in the event of a fire is the smart move! If you're travelling, this is a good place to start your planning.

Other common myths include:

  1. MYTH: Code Red days happen all the time.

    FACT: Code Red days are rare. There have been two Code Red Days in the last three years. Code Red is the highest Fire Danger Rating. Houses in Victoria are not designed or constructed to withstand fires on these days.

    MYTH: If you live in a residential suburban area you’re safe.

    FACT: Even on the urban fringe you are at risk of fire. In strong winds, embers can travel up to 35 kilometres in front of a fire, starting new fires. People who travel or holiday in high risk bushfire areas are also at risk of bushfire. Even people considering a day trip should be prepared.

    MYTH: It will be safe to leave even if I can see fire.

    FACT: Roads might be blocked, thick smoke will make it difficult to see, the fire could travel faster than you drive and fires can leap highways. Every minute you wait, it gets closer. 

    MYTH: CFA will be able to send a fire truck or come to my rescue.

    FACT: If the CFA is fighting fires, they can’t be knocking on doors. It’s your responsibility to make the best possible decision for your family based on the current Fire Danger Ratings and official warnings for your area. It’s up to you to know when to leave. It is critical for your safety to check more than one source for warnings. On high-risk days, monitor the conditions around you. Get the most up to date information through:
  • 

  •   FireReady App

  •   Emergency broadcasters: ABC Local Radio, commercial radio and designated community radio stations

  •   SKY NEWS television

  •   Victorian Bushfire Information Line: 1800 240 667

  •   CFA social media such as Facebook and Twitter: @CFA_Updates

  •   You may also receive an alert sent to your landline or mobile phone based on its billing address or location (for Telstra customers only) through the Emergency Alert System.

    MYTH: I can easily defend against fires; I am prepared and have experience.

    FACT: You can’t prepare for all fires. You need a well thought-out bushfire survival plan which has been agreed and discussed with members of the household. Leaving early is always the safest option.

    MYTH: Fire Danger Ratings are just a weather gauge.

    FACT: A Fire Danger Rating tells you how bad a fire would be if one started, including how difficult it would be to put out. The higher the rating, the more dangerous the conditions. 

    MYTH: Winter has been very wet so there’s less chance of a fire in summer.

    FACT: Rainfall fuels the growth of vegetation, especially grass, creating more fuel for fire. In years of wet weather, Victoria often sees an increase in the number of large grassfires. It only takes two weeks of hot, dry and windy weather to create dangerous fire conditions.

    MYTH: All barbecues are banned on a Total Fire Ban day.

    FACT: Solid and liquid-fuel barbecues and ovens are banned on Total Fire Ban days. You can still use gas or electrical barbecues that are fixed appliances built into permanent structures of brick, stone or concrete provided you adhere to the guidelines for use located at Portable gas or electric barbecues are also allowed if they are commercially manufactured exclusively for meal preparation and you ensure they are in a stable position when alight.

    MYTH: If we do decide to leave early, we will be able to go to the local Neighbourhood Safer Places.

    FACT: Neighbourhood Safer Places are places of last resort only when all other plans have failed, and do not guarantee safety. They are sometimes just an open space (e.g. a football oval) with limited facilities. There isn’t a Neighbourhood Safer Place in every community. 

In our house we had a 'Fire Plan Meeting' this week. We introduced the topic by talking about the fire drills the kids have done at school and kindergarten. I told them we were going to do something like that for our house in case there was ever a fire.

We told them that first and foremost, it is important you have working smoke alarms in your home! 

We're all encouraged to change the batteries in our smoke alarms at the end of daylight saving every year - this year, daylight saving ends on April 7. Here is a picture of the Grumpy Old Man testing our alarm - don't you love our spider webs; just keepin' it real, yo!

We tripped the alarm and explained to the kids what that ear piercing sound is all about; what it means, and what to do when they hear it. 

That particular alarm went off a few weeks ago while I was cooking late at night (there is a reason why I don't cook most of the time) and even though it is positioned directly outside the boys' bedroom, none of them woke to the alarm. It has been observed that children don't necessarily hear alarms in their sleep - so alarms during the night are important to wake adults! It is important to let children hear the alarm when they are awake and make sure they understand what it is for, so that if you wake them during the night, they understand what is going on and can react appropriately.

Next we talked about what to do in the event of a fire.

If you live rurally, or on the outskirts of the city, the CFA have a range of fire ready kits you can fill in to prepare a fire plan.

There are plenty of activities for kids on the CFA site; for example, you can get your kids involved in packing a relocation kit by playing the game Neville Numbat gets dressed for safety. Getting kids involved gives them a sense of confidence and understanding which will pay dividends if you need them to pack up and get in the car when they'd rather just play at home on fire risk days.

For older kids - like my 11 and 13 year olds who tell me they're basically adults now - there are interactive videos, activities, and information about paying attention to fire risk ratings, ember attacks and radiant here.

If, like us, you live in the metropolitan area, you can got to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade site and check out their home safety tips.

With our kids, we drew up a rudimentary home and garden plan. The CFA site has an awesome interactive game for kids which can help them design a plan of their own home and garden complete with doors, windows, fire extinguisher, fire alarms and fire blanket for the stove here! Our kids loved designing our house in this game!

As you can see, it's very basic. With kids, the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, smarty) really does apply. You don't want to bore the kids, but you want them to get the point.

For our kids (ranging in age from 13 down to 4), this meant:

  1. Let them hear the smoke alarm and tell them that means fire and to get out of the house.
  2. Tell them to get 'get down low, and go, go, go!'
  3. Explain where the exits to the house are - front door and back doors.
  4. Tell them where the 'Meeting Place' is; at the front corner of our street, under the street sign.
  5. Tell them to go there and STAY there - even if they are the only person there. They NEVER go back into the house. NEVER!
  6. Tell them to leave the front and back door open for other people and for the dog to find his way out - and don't try to find and save the dog, his instincts will guide him!
  7. Tell them don't cross the road (even though this might seem counter intuitive because, of course, we want out kids as far away from the fire as possible, our concern is that children running into the street might be dangerous with fire engines etc. driving around).
We told showed them how to feel a closed door to see if it is hot, and how that might mean there is fire behind the door and not to open it unless there is no other way out. We explained that it might be dark and hard to breathe, but they just have to keep moving until they get outside and to the meeting place.

We told them not to try and grab any of their favourite stuff or stuff they think they need to 'save'. The only thing they need to save is themselves - they are more important than any other 'thing' in our house, everything else can be replaced.

Then we did a drill because kids often need to 'do' to understand.

Bryn crawling to the front door

Lukas and Ari crawling to the back door and Lukas checking for heat before opening it.

Everyone gathered at the meeting place. Erik in his pyjamas, and Ari without shoes because when a fire happens you might not have time to find clothes and shoes, you just get out as fast as you can!

They all look very happy, don't they? 

A safe family is a happy family! So, get your fire plan happening! Go to the Country Fire Association site, plan and prepare, introduce your kids to Captain Koala and Friends, get your older kids involved as well.

Be safe.

Important links:

The Australian Emergency number is: 000

Country Fire Association information:


Metropolitan Fire Brigade information:


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Good Job!