For Safety's sake

Kids are targeted with messages about smoke alarms and escape plans
by: Submitted photo, The fire district designed two sets of illustrations to help teach children what they can do to safely escape a fire. This one, for children 7 and older, cautions children to get below the smoke and crawl to safety.

Just like the fire drills in school, it's important for families to practice what they will do in the event of a fire in their home.

Do you have working smoke alarms?

Do you have an escape plan for every member of the family?

Do you have two ways out of every room?

Do you have a designated meeting place?

Those are all questions that Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue personnel would like families to answer.

'We see firsthand why homes need to have working smoke alarms and an escape plan,' said Karen Eubanks, fire district spokeswoman. 'Fires double in size every 30 seconds.

'It's nothing like what's portrayed on television or in the movies. The smoke that's produced from a fire will darken a room to the point that you may not see your hand in front of your face and is so hot and deadly that one breath of it can confuse and asphyxiate you.'

In 2006, 80 percent of all fire deaths were caused by home fires. In that year alone, roughly 2,600 people were killed by house fires and 12,500 were injured, according to National Fire Protection Association reports.

A survey done by the same association found that most people mistakenly believe that it takes 10 minutes or more for a fire to create a life-threatening situation. The reality is that fire can block escape routes and produce toxic fumes in less than two minutes.

'Working in this industry, we had assumed people knew certain things about fire,' said Joanne Hatch, TVF and R's public education and media services manager. 'In spending time with children in schools or at events where we set up our fire house, we are running into Hollywood misnomers.

'We asked children what they knew about fire and fire safety. What they told us was alarming, especially when they told us what they were going to do.

'They told us they were going to stop, drop and roll, even if their clothes weren't on fire, but that's not going to save their life in a house fire. They told us they were going to hide from the flames and smoke in the closet or under the bed. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.'

Children were also more afraid of flames than the deadly smoke, she said.

'At that point, we knew we had a problem,' Hatch said. 'We had hoped children would say they would get out of the house and call 911.'

With the help of a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the fire district invested in an educational public outreach campaign working with landlords, students and families in classrooms, at community events and through the use of its fire safety house program.

The fire district has also developed educational materials with four key messages tailored for children ages 6 and younger and 7 and older, giving them actions to take in case of a fire.

Those messages include:

n Identify where your smoke alarm is in your home because it's your nose at night.

n Always know two ways out of every room - the first and easiest choice being the door and the second being the window.

n Get low and go - crawl on your knees where the air is better.

n Make a lot of noise.

'If you can't escape your home, get to a window, open it and yell, 'Fire!' or signal by waving a white or light colored blanket, a piece of clothing, or a towel,' Eubanks said. 'Never hide from the fire.'

Before opening any door, test the closed doors with the back of your hand for heat, she added.

'If the door is cool to the touch, crouch low and slowly open the door to see if there is smoke,' Eubanks said. 'If you see smoke or fire, close the door quickly and use your second exit.

'A closed bedroom door can act as a barrier, providing valuable time for a rescue from outside the home. '

Because every second counts in a fire, it's important for families to plan for what they will do and practice that plan.

'Working smoke alarms buy you time - time to escape before the situation becomes life-threatening,' Eubanks said. 'You may have only minutes to escape from a dark, smoke-filled house.

'Our hope is to have people sit down as a family, test their smoke alarms and develop a fire escape plan.

'It's also a good idea to practice that plan in the middle of the night to see if everyone wakes up. Some children sleep through smoke alarms and may need the nearest relative to wake them up. It's important to practice so everyone knows what to expect.'

For more information about how to develop a home fire escape plan, visit