Meet me at the corner! Plan for your family’s safety

By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross volunteer

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Beth Bracale

If I close my eyes, I can still see the flames shooting out from the windows of the house across the street. I can hear the agonized screams that drew us to our own windows that night to see what had happened. I was five years old, and that was my first experience of sheer terror – both someone else’s and my own.

Believe it or not, no one got hurt that night. Both of the senior sisters who shared the home had escaped the fire, one out the front door, one out the back. Their screams were the agony of each believing the other to still be trapped in the inferno. When neighbors reunited them, they fell sobbing into each other’s arms.

No one is ever fully prepared for disaster, but families can plan together to minimize the suffering. What if the sisters had had a plan? Would that night have gone differently had they designated a meeting spot in case they got separated in an emergency?

As foster parents, it’s required that we have a clear escape plan in case of disaster, one that everyone in the family can understand and remember. Even young children can learn what to do. All the students in the school where I taught, ages four through 14, practiced how to exit the school if there was a fire, how to exit a bus in an emergency, and what to do if a tornado was headed toward our neighborhood.

So I wasn’t prepared for the day my class of four-year-olds sat on the story carpet, listening to my assistant talk about emergencies. They raised their hands eagerly to share what they knew about fire drills. Stay in line. Walk, don’t run. Remain silent. Wait in our class’ spot on the corner until we got the “all clear” to return to our room. They had it all right.

Eilene Guy photo

Photo credit: Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

“But what if an emergency happened at home?” my assistant asked.

“If a bad man comes in the house, you hide in the closet,” one child announced. Others nodded in agreement.

“What if a tornado is coming?” she asked.

“You run outside,” another child responded. More nods. I made a mental note to teach about tornado safety in the near future.

“What if you smelled smoke in your house or saw that something was on fire?” she quizzed.

“You call 911,” a student said confidently. “Yes, but what do you do before that?” she asked.

“Hide in the closet,” he said. The other children agreed.

Hide in the closet. Images of that house fire from years ago leaped into my head. And I imagined children inside, hiding in the closet.

We did a lot of learning and practicing that day. We sent the students home with information for their parents to use in creating family safety plans.

You can find information about keeping children safe on the American Red Cross website at https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/fire/fire-safety-for-kids.html.

Don’t put it off. Create your own plan today!

Overconfident and Underprepared

New Red Cross Survey Shows Many Americans Mistaken About Home Fire Safety

According to a new survey by the American Red Cross, many people overestimate their ability to react to a home fire and miss critical steps to keep their loved ones safe.

In fact, 40 percent of people believe they are more likely to win the lottery or get struck by lightning than experience a home fire. Yet, home fires are the most common disaster people face in this country – the majority of the nearly 64,000 disasters the Red Cross responds to every year.

“Every day seven people in this country die in a home fire and another 36 people are hurt,” reports Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern. “To address this crisis, we’re bringing together thousands of community partners and volunteers to Sound the Alarm about home fire safety and help save lives. We’ve already installed more than 1.1 million smoke alarms, but our work will continue across the country, because many families are still underprepared when it comes to home fire safety.”

This spring, the Red Cross will Sound the Alarm through a series of home fire safety and smoke alarm installation events in more than 100 high-risk communities in the United States, including Cleveland and Akron. In just 16 days – from April 28 to May 13 – volunteers and partners will install 100,000 free smoke alarms across the country. Volunteers are needed, learn more by visiting SoundTheAlarm.org/neo.

MANY PEOPLE MISTAKEN ABOUT HOME FIRE FACTS

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The Red Cross survey found that many Americans have a false sense of security about their family’s ability to escape a home fire. More than three-fourths (80 percent) of people surveyed believe everyone in their household knows what to do when a smoke alarm goes off. But less than half of those surveyed have a home fire escape plan in place. And only half of the families that do have a plan have actually practiced it.

Home fire experts say that people have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home. However, the survey showed nearly 60 percent of people mistakenly believe they have much more time than is realistic.

MORE SURVEY RESULTS Even though many Americans admit to actions that could contribute to a home fire, only one out of four (27 percent) think that they are likely to experience a home fire in their lifetime. For example, about 40 percent of people have forgotten to turn off a stove or oven, even though cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries. And, more than one-third (34 percent) of people have used a stove, kerosene lantern or space heater to warm their home. The fact is that heating equipment is involved in one of every five home fire deaths.

The survey does show that some progress is being made. More people are replacing batteries (a 9 percent increase vs. 2015) and testing to make sure their smoke alarms are working (an 11 percent increase vs. 2015). But there is still have a long way to go to make sure everyone is prepared for home fires.

Americans overwhelmingly believe that smoke alarms can save lives, yet one out of ten (12 percent) people have had to give up buying other essentials for their families to purchase one. These findings highlight just how critical the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign is in communities across the country. Launched in 2014 to save lives and help end home fire tragedies, the Red Cross and its partners have already installed more than 1.1 million free smoke alarms and reached 1 million children through preparedness programs. These efforts are already credited with helping to save 381 lives. Learn more.

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from national partners: Almost Family, Delta Air Lines and International Paper. The Red Cross has also received funding from FEMA through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

Join the Red Cross today by volunteering to install smoke alarms in your community, making a financial contribution, or taking steps to protect your own family from home fires. Together, we can Sound the Alarm about fire safety and help save lives. Learn more at soundthealarm.org/neo.

Supplemental Information about Survey Methodology

The national public opinion survey was conducted for the Red Cross in August 2017 using the research firm Issues & Answers. The study was conducted among a national sample of 604 American adults. The total sample is balanced to be representative of the US adult population in terms of age, sex, geographic region, race and education. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 4 percent.