The Newsroom    Published Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006, 4:20 PM
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Your Health: Family fire safety plan could save lives

By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

When a fire starts in a home, there are often only minutes to escape. That’s why it is important that you keep your home fire-safe and devise a plan of action for your family in the event of a fire.

The first step to making your home fire-safe is to install smoke alarms. Alarms dramatically increase the fire survival rate of every member of the family — two-thirds of home fires that kill children under age 5 occur in homes without a working smoke alarm.

Parents should install an alarm on each level of the home and outside bedrooms or other sleeping areas. Remember to test alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year — preferably twice, at biannual time changes. If an infant sleeps in a separate room, place an alarm in the room. Keep the door closed to protect against the smoke of a hallway fire and use a baby monitor so you’ll hear it if the alarm sounds.

Practicing fire prevention, and teaching your children to do the same, also goes a long way in making your home a safer place. Inspect your house to ensure that electric circuits or outlets are not overloaded. Have the heating systems checked annually. Smokers in the home should use deep ashtrays and dampen ashes before disposing of them.

Keep in mind that kids have a natural curiosity about fire, so store matches and lighters out of children’s sight and reach. Remember that child-resistant lighters are not childproof.

If a child is curious about fire, or has been playing with fire, calmly and firmly explain that matches and lighters are tools for only adults to use. Ask children to tell you when they find a lighter or match and to bring it to you; reward them with praise.

Should the smoke alarm sound to warn you of a fire, families should have a detailed escape plan. Draw a diagram of your house including windows and doors, and plan two routes of escape out of each room. Teach kids how to feel doors with the back of the hand to see if they are hot, and instruct them never to open a hot door.

Know the abilities of each member of the family — especially those who may not be able to escape on their own. Teach children how to crawl under the smoke to reduce smoke inhalation, and how to drop and roll if their clothes catch on fire.

Practice the plan with members of the family. Children as young as 3 years of age can follow an escape plan if they have practiced it often. Teach your children not to hide when they encounter fire — not even if they have started it. Familiarize them with firefighters, who to children can look frightening when they’re dressed in protective gear. Take kids to a fire station to meet firefighters and learn why they wear these suits; show them that they are friends who come to help.

If you live in an apartment building, it is sometimes safest to stay inside your apartment and protect yourself from smoke inhalation until the fire department arrives. This is called “passive escape” and you should only stay put if you cannot get out of the building. If you are unable to leave the building:

• Seal all doors and vents with duct tape and towels to prevent smoke from entering the room.
• Open a window to let fresh air in, but close it if it draws smoke into the room.
• Call the fire department and let them know that you are still inside of the building; tell where you are and that you can’t escape, and, if possible, wave a flashlight at the window to help them spot you.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Media Hotline (409) 772-6397
John Koloen:jskoloen@utmb.edu




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