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Do we — or Should we Teach Preschoolers Fire Safety

If we are not teaching preschoolers fire safety then sadly we are failing in the world of starting them young to prevent!

Young children can understand “Stop” or “No”, but they cannot understand “Do not run onto the street because you will get hit by a car”. They are too busy concentrating on running without falling over, and anyway, they did not get hit by a car last time they ran on the road.

Are fire services teaching preschoolers fire safety and if so is the message sticking with the little ones who need it the most? How do we even know what the learning outcomes are using the materials we have available to us as educators? In my experience as a fire chief (retired now), usually these materials are in short supply or very limited, like don’t touch we don’t have enough.

When we say we are teaching them young, mostly the preschool fire education items we use anyways are handouts left in the hands of parents or the caregivers to reinforce the message back at home. So this is prime-time to educate kids together with the adults in their lives. And when we do present to preschoolers, especially with adults in tow, the glazed over look on those faces can be very intimidating to an ill-equipped firefighter or educator. So a critical item to also know is teaching tools can make or break us as fire and life safety educators.

Young children need to have a safe environment at home, why?

• Because they are too young to take care of their own safety;
• Because they cannot understand danger, and;
• Because a parent just telling them about danger, while important, does not always keep them safe.

Keeping young children safe is an adults responsibility so as educators we want to see parents and caregivers staying with their preschoolers for their fire safety lessons. When in fact most fire and life safety education programs are geared towards the school age kids, its the kids under the age of five who have a much higher risk of dying in a residential fire compared to children in other age groups.

Most injuries to young children happen at home, so as parents it is very important to make your home as safe as possible. Understand the hazards that exist around you.

  1. Young children cannot understand danger. They cannot understand that they might get hurt or even killed even when you have told them about the danger.
  2. Young children can understand “Stop” or “No”, but they cannot understand “Do not run onto the street because you will get hit by a car”. They are too busy concentrating on running without falling over, and anyway, they did not get hit by a car last time they ran on the road.
  3. Toddlers may understand “no” but they may not have learned to obey it yet.
  4. Young children only look at where they are going to (chasing a ball, running to a friend) – they have ‘tunnel vision’.
  5. They cannot judge whether something, such as a car, is moving, or how fast it is moving.

Victims of Nova Scotia house fire were all children under the age of 8, relative says. Jan 8, 2018, The Star

It is a fact that young kids aren’t as capable of exiting a home on their own or understanding the dangers of fire risks.

Parents must take extra precautions to reduce fire risk in the home, including installing fire safety equipment and preparing comprehensive safety and evacuation plans to ensure children escape safely. Children of between the ages of 3-5 generally lack the mental faculties to understand the need and the means of quickly escaping from a burning structure. Even in their own homes, very young children lack an understanding of how to escape.

Physiologically, young children are susceptible to severe injury or death from fire.

A young child’s skin is quite thin and delicate compared to that of adults and older children. As a result, young children suffer burns more quickly and easily than adults. In addition, smoke inhalation from the toxic gases released by fires (and often in conjunction with burns suffered in the fires.

For parents, the dangers of fire are so apparent that the sight of a child anywhere near a flame is enough to send them scrambling. And fortunately, most kids are wary of fire and understand that it can hurt them and others. But it’s not unusual for kids to be curious about fire, too. After all, we enjoy campfires and singing over birthday candles. That’s why it’s so important to educate kids about the dangers of fire and to keep them away from matches, lighters, and other fire-starting tools.

Even with the best efforts from parents, kids might play with fire. Most of the time this can be handled by explaining the dangers and setting clear ground rules and consequences for not following them.

For most adults, knowing to get out of a house on fire comes as second nature. But children respond in just the opposite way. To escape fire, they often try to hide under a bed, in a closet, or behind furniture. They even hide from the firefighters trying to save them. When you look at things from a child’s point of view, it’s easier to understand their actions. Appropriate supervision and visual guidance ( like show and tell) of children, especially the youngest, is one of the most effective means of preventing injury or death from all sources.

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Most home fires start at night when everyone is sleeping. When awakened, kids are groggy and confused. Smoke fogs their vision, which is made even worse by coughing and watering eyes. Plus, fire is loud, blindingly bright, swift moving, and frightening.

When firefighters enter into a burning home, they’re in full protective gear, including face masks and oxygen tanks. They may have an ax or fire hose. Firefighters breathing into masks sound frightening, not all that different from Darth Vadar of the movie “Star Wars.”

To further complicate matters, a young child’s logical thinking hasn’t matured. To them, out of sight means out of harm’s reach. They falsely believe that not seeing fire means it can’t find them. Those factors combine to put kids at greater risk of dying in a house fire than an adult.

Hundreds, if not Thousands, of People Die or Become Badly Injured in Preventable Fires Each Year. Don’t Become One of These Statistics! Fire-ED Fire News Tracker 

Get the tools and training to parents, caregivers, and preschool teachers so they can fight against the odds.

Start teaching kids young, even as young as the age of 2-5 because with the support of parents, daycare and preschool teachers, they will retain fire safety and survival skills just like they are learning when they are read a story or how to use a new toy.

Remember.

  1. When a house fire starts, children can become very afraid and confused. They may not understand what is happening or how they should react.
  2. With as little as two minutes to escape unharmed they must know how to crawl low to the ground with their mouths covered if there is smoke and to feel for a hot door before exiting a room.
  3. Teach children never to hide from firefighters.
  4. Teach children to NEVER return to a burning building.
  5. Children’s sleepwear is required to be flame-resistant or snug fitting. Only allow your children to sleep in pajamas, not “day wear,” such as T-shirts or sweatpants.
  6. Teach children to STOP, DROP, COVER THEIR FACE and ROLL if their clothing catches on fire.

There are certain life safety skills to develop as adults who are dealing with young children. Make the learning active and participatory; keep the lessons short, but repeat them to reinforce the key concepts; and check on how well the children remember what they learned. This is particularly important if you are teaching two different behaviors in combination, such as “get low and go” or “stop, drop, and roll.”

Preschool-age children are at greater risk for home fire deaths and burns. Yes their developmental capabilities make learning about fire safety particularly challenging. Fire safety education is always done with the best intentions, but if we do not understand how preschoolers learn, we might be doing them more harm than good.

The stove is HOT – the fire place and fire pit is HOT = We don’t touch hot things – out of the kitchen when mom is carrying something to the sink – the water is HOT.

As parents, caregivers, daycare and preschool teachers we all should learn how to teach our child to respect fire or heat when they are very young at home. In a two story window we can get purchase escape ladders that attach to the window sill on the outside and can be opened easily.

Being able to identify basic learning characteristics and having knowledge of how preschooler learns is critical so here are more things to ask your local fire department about so you know:

1. The learning characteristics of 3-5 year olds:

a) They learn by seeing and doing.
b) They model parents and adults in their life.
c) They have predictable fears.
d) They cannot distinguish fantasy from reality (that’s why Sparky is so successful in helping teach fire safety.)

2. Instructional methods to use when working with 3-5 year olds:

a) Get down on their level (sit on floor or in chair.)
b) Use only positive behaviors (do not use fear.)
c) Active repetition.
d) Teach 1 behavior and NO MORE than 20 minutes.
e) Use words that are on the child’s level. Example: hot, hurt, burn, not words like apparatus, gear and dispatch.

3. Examples of appropriate activities for preschoolers:

a) Flannel board activity for exit drills at the school.
b) Puppet or clown show about fire safety.
c) A “Follow the Leader” game that teaches crawling low in smoke.
d) Using a picture game to identify burn hazards.
e) Using toys and objects to represent potential burn hazards.
f) Using music and songs to convey a burn safety message.
g) Demonstrate “Stop, drop, and roll” and have kids repeat.

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Terry Penney avatar
Oh I'm just a simple safety janitor in life. I clean up the messes and try to keep things running so folks get home safely. On top of 30 years law enforcement service, a past life in the reserves as a commissioned officer, plus training and volunteer fire service, 18 years as fire chief and paramedic. I have taught world wide and to all age groups in life. From kids to adults to grand parents and with a common goal everyone is going home safe regardless if they are working or in school or retired. From Dangerous goods, to fire safety and prevention to why incident investigation are critical to PREVENTION not punishment and finger pointing. And all those small initials at the back of my name have NEVER saved a single person, but they have made folks go home to loved ones and not the morgue.

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