October is Fire Safety Month, and there are special challenges associated with kids who have special needs. Most children learn about Stop, Drop, and Roll at an early age – in kindergarten or preschool – but they may not understand what it really means for a few years after that. Kids with special needs have their unique difficulties that typical children do not have to contend with, and it’s important to address these things when creating your family’s fire safety plan.
Does your child understand what fire is and why it’s dangerous? Do they know what to do when they hear the smoke detector go off? Children with autism, Down’s Syndrome, and other developmental delays may have trouble associating an alarm with danger. Others may understand what the smoke detector alarm means, but they are really sensitive to loud noises and may lose conscious control of themselves because the sound bothers them too much.
It’s important to do routine fire drills in your home to help your child associate the sound of the fire alarm with leaving the house quickly and by staying low to the ground. By conducting fire drills on a monthly basis, your child will come to learn that hearing the alarm means you have to leave the house. Be sure to practice at least two different routes out of the house so that he knows there is another way out if one room is too hot or smoky.
There are talking fire alarms that can be beneficial for children, and not just kids with noise sensitivities. Studies show that fewer than half of children between the ages of 6 and 15 wake up when hearing a traditional fire alarm. With a talking fire alarm, you record a message in your own voice urging your kids to wake up and get out of the house the way you practiced in your family fire drills. Your voice is more likely to wake him up and keep him calm as he follows your instructions to evacuate the house.
If your child has a visual impairment, does she know how to recognize smoke and fire by smell and touch, so she can recognize when her chosen escape route is too dangerous to follow? She should also be able to navigate her escape route by crawling to stay below any smoke there may be. This should be practiced during your monthly fire drills so she can learn to use different cues to determine her location.
For what it’s worth, it may be helpful to ask your non-visually-impaired children to try to crawl out of the house with their eyes closed. In a real fire, smoke may make it hard to see, and they should know how to feel their way out of the house as well.
Is your child physically able to get out of the house by herself in case of a fire? If not, is she ever left home alone? Make sure your child knows that she has a neighbor who is home most of the time and can be called (after dialing 911) in the event of a fire or other emergency. The neighbor’s phone number should be on speed dial, or the number should be placed conspicuously near the phone in case your child cannot remember it. Let your child know that she can also scream for help. “Help! There’s a fire and I can’t get out of the house!”
Is your child familiar with firefighters? Some kids are scared of anyone in an unfamiliar costume, and firefighting gear may trigger a panicked reaction. Many schools will invite local firefighters to come in and talk to the class about fire safety, but they may not arrive in full gear. Call your local fire department to see if you can schedule a tour where your child can meet the firefighters and watch them get dressed in their gear. You can also ask if they have a form you can file so they know about your child’s special needs in case of a fire.
My father was a firefighter, and I grew up living next door to the fire house. We’ve brought TJ to several pancake breakfasts at the firehouse, and he’s met firefighters and sat inside some of the fire vehicles. He has a plastic fire hat and has worn a sticker that says “Junior Fire Deputy.” He thinks firefighters are cool, and that is always helpful when trying to teach him about fire safety!
This article was previously posted elsewhere, but I really wanted to share it here with you.
Tags: fire safety, special needs