The other night while reading a bedtime favorite to my children, “Corduroy Goes to the Fire Station,” my 6-year-old stopped me and said, “Mom, I can’t remember what to do after we crawl through the smoke if there’s a fire in our home.”
I must have opted out of driving to the Fire Station field trip, because I wasn’t sure what specific step came next. I knew the ultimate goal is to get outside to fresh air, but I was stumped, thinking I may have missed a crucial step. Connor was obviously taught that there is a process by which to follow when there’s a residential fire, but I wasn’t as privy to that process as I was to my generation’s rule of “Stop, Drop and Roll.”
Sadly, last week in San Carlos a family home did catch fire. The 3 a.m. blaze that went to two alarms at a home on St. Francis Avenue in the White Oaks neighborhood and caused a whole lot of damage – an estimated $500,000 – but fortunately the family was able to safely escape the burning home. The July 11 fire was confined to the garage and kitchen and was fast moving, according to fire officials.
Having read about the fire the same day that I was reading the fire safety book to my children, it got me thinking about how my kids, at 6, 4 and 2, are old enough to begin the discussion about family safety plans and what to do in an emergency.
And later that week on Thursday night at 11:38 p.m. to be exact, just as I was turning another page of my book ‘The Shack,’ I was jarred by a small magnitude 2.1 earthquake centered in San Carlos… a final sign that a family emergency plan was definitely in order.
So my husband and I researched family action plans on the FEMA website and had a serious Strain Family talk with our kids … well with the two older ones while our youngest systematically sang the Spiderman theme song about 10 times in succession.
We talked about where we would all meet, deciding on the corner of our friendly neighbors’ house. We talked at length about smoke alarms and played for them the ear-piercing sound the alarm makes when there is smoke in the house. They immediately covered their ears and screamed a few decibels higher than the sound they heard.
We spoke to them about crawling low if they saw smoke and heading out the door to fresh air and briskly walking out of the house to our family meeting place. We reminded them of how scary firefighters may look in their protective gear, but that they were really superheroes there to save them in the event of an emergency.
And then we had a trial. We thought we had covered everything.
We blew a whistle to identify the emergency and went to work. Each child was in their room – the boys who share a room were responsible for each other. Connor was to attempt to wrestle Carson awake and Ashley was responsible for getting out of her room too. Kevin and I coaxed, signed, signaled and maneuvered the kids to the two marked exits of our home.
We had no stopwatch but the scene was a bit of a circus, a rather long and poorly choreographed circus… We finally exited our house and met at our neighbors’ corner. I with nothing but a few beads of sweat on my brow, Connor with the fear of death in his eyes, Carson spinning Spiderman webs with his hands and Ashley with a bag of four un-matching flip-flops, three bathing suits, a roll of stickers and two Polly Pockets. Kevin just had a life-giving smirk on his face, something that signified that we would probably all be charred in the event of a real fire, but it was a start…
Regardless of how insufficient our family is in the event of a mock-emergency, a family action plan will help to avoid any agonizing minutes or even hours of not knowing if someone in our family is OK. It is critical for families everywhere. Although at times we get sucked into organizing the things we can control – whether we bring the sunblock to avoid a burn or band-aids to aid our kids in the event of a skinned knee, we often times forget about the big things and then sadly, might be caught off-guard in a real tragedy. So it may take years of practice before it is perfected and hopefully, never used in a crucial event.
And we may escape with too many flip-flops and stuffed animals and we might forget our blankies and binkies, but hopefully the practice will become habit and in the event of a tragedy, we will all know how to act under pressure.
Hats off to those whose job it is to serve and protect us all.