If a fire strikes in your home, you won't have much time to react. Smoke inhalation can overwhelm a child or adult in less than two minutes. Be prepared by making a fire evacuation plan with your family so everyone makes it out of the house quickly and safely.
A Map, a Plan, an Assignment
First, sketch a map of your house's floor plan. Hold a family meeting, and familiarize your children with the map by pointing out where each room in the house is. Pasting a photo of each family member inside his or her respective bedroom on the map may help younger children. Once your children understand the map, draw a red line from each room to show the exit route. If possible, draw an alternate route out of each room through a window, in case the primary route is blocked. Then designate a meeting place outside for the family to gather that is a safe distance away from the house, such as the mailbox, and draw that place on the map. Post the evacuation plan on the refrigerator to keep it fresh in your family's mind.
Everyone in your family should have an assignment or responsibility in the event of an evacuation. Younger children should only focus on getting out according to the exit route. Have an adult account for the children and any pets getting out safely. Children who are old enough can be placed in charge of calling 9-1-1 once they are outside, or alerting a neighbor to call. This will help them see that they are an important part of the plan, and they need to take it seriously.
Teach Safety Techniques
Define, step-by-step, what you expect your children to do. Teach them to stay low to the floor, moving on their hands and knees, if there is smoke in their room. To avoid inhalation, instruct them to cover their face with a pillowcase or shirt. Show them how to crawl over to their bedroom door and touch the doorknob first. If it's hot, they should stand by their window and wave a shirt. If it's not hot, they should proceed out the door and exit the house to the meeting place outside. They should never attempt to pick up toys and personal possessions, or look for their parents, siblings, or pets. Sticking to the evacuation plan to get out safely is most important.
Let your children hear what a smoke detector going off sounds like. Tell them to follow the fire escape plan whenever they hear the smoke detector beeping. Practice this with periodic fire drills. Activate the smoke detector and work with your children so they don't forget what they are supposed to do. If they are having trouble, show them the map and repeat the plan until they have mastered it. With enough drills, you can avoid panic and confusion if a real fire strikes in the home.