Effective fire prevention and survival skills—life skills that can protect young lives now and in their future lives—are more than school fire drills, a session of stop, drop and roll, or a mention of pot holders during a cooking lesson. Children and teens with intellectual disabilities are at higher for preventable injuries, including fire and burns. Teens are an especially important group to reach with effective fire safety skills, because they are approaching an age when many will move into more independent living situations—where their risk increases. This article includes six modules for lessons and classroom activities, discussion prompts and take-home materials that cover the key skills of kitchen safety, smoke alarms and exit plans, and calling 911.
Cooking is the most common cause of home fires. Foodlink, a regional food bank serving 10 counties in Greater Rochester, New York, has partnered with Prevention 1st to incorporate safety into its Cooking Matters courses that help families learn about healthy cooking.
Through support from Wegmans Food Markets and Community Health Strategies, Prevention 1st has developed a kitchen and cooking safety curriculum for the program, which serves about 500 families. Here are some of Prevention 1st’s tips for preventing fires and burns in the kitchen, especially when involving children in cooking:
Be Fire Safe in Kitchen—the top fire and burn risks and how to avoid them
Kids in the Kitchen—includes at what ages children can learn to use kitchen appliances and techniques safely
Modeling Kitchen Fire Safety—the top habits for safety in the kitchen
Related Articles and Resources:
When is a Child Old Enough to Use the Stove or Oven? (from our expert partner Community Health Strategies)
Young children and people with developmental disabilities are among those at highest risk from fire. At the Mississippi Fire Chiefs’ Conference, fire chiefs learned how to protect these vulnerable groups even when budgets for preventive education are limited.
The state of Mississippi had the highest average fire death rate in the five most recent years.[i] Lt. Robert Crandall (Ret.), a Prevention 1st board member and vice-president of Community Health Strategies, was recently invited to present ways to bring preventive education to two of the most vulnerable groups: young children, and people with developmental disabilities.
Community Risk Reduction: (Mostly) Free Fire Safety Resources for Vulnerable Populations, presented to 120 fire chiefs, lead off the two-day Mississippi Fire Chiefs’ Conference.
The invitation and attendance “shows a real commitment to education in times of lower budgets,” said Crandall.
On average every year across the country, 49,300 fires are caused by “child playing,” leading to 80 deaths and 860 injuries—nearly 3 injuries a day (NFPA data 2014). Young children have a great deal of experience with fire from family activities such as cooking and grilling, camping, and celebrations involving candles, yet can’t really understand how dangerous fire can be. Crandall shared free and low-cost materials that can help fire service educators and others reach this group:
- play safe! be safe! – an award-winning, ready-to-use classroom kit available in English, Spanish and French, including DVD, activity boards, Keep Away!/Aléjate card game, and Resource Book.
- Mikey Makes a Mess – a children’s book available both in print and online.
- Help Mikey Make It Out – an award-winning online teaching game.
People with developmental disabilities are at much greater risk of dying from an injury than the general population, and at 4 times the risk of dying from a fire. Policy changes are moving people with disabilities into more independent living situations, where they are at a 34% greater risk for injury than in institutionalized settings. [ii]
Prevention 1st and Community Health Strategies have developed and delivered Safe at Home training workshops addressing communication between fire service and people with disabilities, avoiding the dangers of exit drill overkill, strategies for people who resist complying with fire drills, and involving families in home safety, with an emphasis on practical skills particularly kitchen/cooking safety. They have been encouraged by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and others to create the program structure necessary to deliver the training more widely, including a formal curriculum and residential safety assessment tool.
play safe! be safe! fire safety education workshops
[i] NFPA, US Unintentional Fire Death Rates by State, October 2012
[ii] Strauss, et. al, American Journal of Epidemiology (1999)
When we think of preventable injuries, we may not think of our ears. But hearing loss is a growing health issue for both adolescents and older Americans, with 48 million people nationwide suffering from hearing loss.
The good news is that noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable. Take these tips from the National Hearing Loss Association of America.
Remember, the noise is too loud when:
- You have to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby;
- The noise hurts your ears;
- You develop a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears, even temporarily;
- You don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise.
Protect yourself by:
- Following the “60/60 Rule,” which means limiting the use of ear bud headphones to 60 minutes at a time and at 60 percent of the device’s maximum volume;
- When around loud noise, protect yourself by:
- Turning down the volume if you can;
- Blocking the noise (with earplugs or ear defenders);
- Avoiding the noise (put your hands over your ears if you can’t walk away).
Protect your children and teens as well, especially by monitoring their use of personal listening devices. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Listening to loud music though ear buds – the tiny electronic speakers that fit into ears – is probably the main reason that more adolescents are losing some of their hearing.” If your child is wearing ear buds and you can hear the sound while standing next to them, the music is too loud.
Ototoxic medications, including some over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin in high doses, some antibiotics, and some chemotherapy drugs, can also cause hearing loss. Ask your doctor if hearing loss is one of the possible side-effects of a medication and if it is, whether there is a substitute medication that would work just as well for you.
Learn more about how to prevent, diagnose, and live with hearing loss.
Swimming can be one of the great joys of a child’s summer. But its important to be vigilant around water, and not just at the beach. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children 14 and under. And for children ages 1 to 4 its the leading cause. The majority of drownings and near-drownings occur in residential swimming pools (Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention).
Keep young swimmers safe with a few simple rules:
- Lifeguards aren’t babysitters. Keep an eye on your kids, and never leave a child alone near water, whether on the beach or at a pool.
- Enroll children older than age three in swimming lessons taught by qualified instructors. But keep in mind that lessons don’t make your child “drown-proof.”
- Always follow posted safety precautions when visiting water parks.
- When swimming outside, get everyone out of the water if you hear thunder or see lightning.
Teach your children these four key swimming rules:
- Always swim with a buddy.
- Don’t dive into unknown bodies of water. Jump feet first to avoid hitting your head on a shallow bottom.
- Don’t push or jump on others.
- Stay away from drains in pools and spas.
Many people don’t think of sparklers as a hazard, and readily hand them to children. In the states that permit their sale, sparklers and some other fireworks of comparable strength such as party poppers have been labeled “safe and sane” by their advocates. But the National Fire Protection Association flatly states: “safe and sane” fireworks are neither.
Sparklers throw off showers of hot sparks, and their temperatures can exceed 1200º F. Sparklers caused 24% of hospital emergency room visits for fireworks-related injuries—the largest of any single type of fireworks.
“Children are getting burned with sparklers. Around the 4th of July is the busiest time for hospitals for children and burns, whether they are burns to the hands or whether they are stepping on the sparklers when they are still hot on the ground,” said Brian McQueen, Director of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) in a news report from WKTV following the recent legislation legalizing the use of sparklers and other Class C fireworks in New York.
Looking for a safer alternative? Get creative with these ideas for sparkless sparkler decorations.
Sometimes when we at Prevention 1st explain our focus on home safety and injury prevention, we get a puzzled look that says: “Really? Who needs that?”
Just a few of the requests for training we’ve received recently, which we meet as grants and underwriting become available, paint a picture of who needs injury prevention education:
- 5th and 6th graders at Hillel Community Day School to teach Peer to Peer Home Safety Training;
- At-risk youth, and the staff who work with them, at Hillside Family of Agencies;
- Blind and visually impaired people from the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI);
- Foster parents, and the staff of Monroe County Foster Care;
- Children and adults with developmental disabilities through the Arc of Monroe, Mary Cariola Children’s Center, and the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS);
- Social workers in the Rochester City School District, to learn how to use our program After the Fire: The Teachable Moment in classrooms where a child has experienced a fire;
- Red Cross workers, who also use The Teachable Moment with the families they help following a fire;
- Older adults, through the Greater Rochester Area Partnership for the Elderly (GRAPE);
- Residents of low-income communities, through Habitat for Humanity.
Learn more about Prevention 1st‘s Programs.
Bob Crandall, Matt Sauers and Ken Schultz knew for sure they’d had a good day when they were presented with a thank-you card as they left Renaissance Academy Charter School of the Arts. In their card, the first-grade class of Mrs. King and Mrs. Washington assured the trainers: “We will play safe!”
They’d spent the day teaching every K-2 classroom not to touch matches and lighters, what to do when the smoke alarm goes off, and more. In the kindergarten and first grade classrooms, the children enjoyed playing the online game Help Mikey Make It Out, as well as My Friend the Firefighter and the Keep Away! game activities from playsafebesafe.com. Trainers and teachers worked together to create a “make your own” smart board: as a child used the pointer to choose items projected at the front of the room, while the trainer pressed buttons on the projector to select them.
With the second graders the trainers used the new fire sets, including doorway, window and meeting place, that Prevention 1st built thanks to a grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The children learned to locate the ways out of a room, to respond right away if the smoke alarm goes off, check the door with the back of the hand before opening, and stay low if there is smoke.
They also learned what to do if they couldn’t go out by the door. The trainers positioned the fire set window and asked one child to be “inside” and make sure the firefighters outside would be able to see her.
“You’re the firefighters,” the children watching “outside” were told. “Can you see her?” As their classmate shouted and waved broadly, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” And the children learned exactly what they would need to do to let firefighters know where they are.
“Safe at home.” It’s how we feel when we close the door behind us at the end of a long day. But how often do we take a moment to make sure we truly are as safe as we feel in our own homes? Preventable injuries — including home fires and burns, household poisons, drowning and falls — are the leading cause of death for children, teens and young adults (you’ll be glad to know “young” means up to age 44). They’re one of the leading causes of death for older adults too. Let’s say you’re not afraid of dying. Why take the time to be safer?
- You have better places to spend time than the emergency department. Injuries account for more than a third of all emergency department visits. The average wait time in EDs across the country is four hours and seven minutes, according to the engrossing reading of a recent Emergency Department Pulse Report. What would you rather do with those four hours?
- Safer is cheaper. Injuries cost the nation $80 billion every year in medical costs alone. The estimated lifetime cost of injuries occurring in a single year in the U.S is more than $406 billion. No matter how good your health insurance is, an injury can take hundreds or thousands of dollars straight out of your pocket.
- You want to get on with your life. A broken hip from a fall that could have been prevented may keep you from enjoying your normal activities for months. And do you really want to spend Rochester’s brief summer in the rehab center?
You say you just don’t have time to prevent injuries? If you’ve got less than one minute to devote to safety, use it to:
- Wipe up a spill right away. Falls are the leading causeof nonfatal unintentional injuries for every age group, except 10 to 24 year olds—and for them it’s the second leading cause! Wiping up spills is one of several simple ways to prevent falls.
- Not leave a child alone near water (yes, even for less than a minute). Kids don’t drown only in pools. Bathtubs, buckets, toilets, and hot tubs can be drowning dangers as well.
- Test your smoke alarm to make sure it’s still working, and everyone in your household can hear it. Even alarms that are hard-wired or have long-life batteries need to be checked. You should have at least one working smoke alarm on each floor, and one inside every sleeping area is best. Consider having both ionization and photoelectric alarms, or dual alarms that incorporate both technologies. Ionization smoke alarms respond best to flaming fires, and photoelectric to smoldering fires.
- Put away matches or lighters in a high cabinet or locked drawer, out of sight and reach of children. Children playing with fire is a leading cause of fire deaths for children under age 5.
- Turn off portable space heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep. Space heaters are involved in 32% of heating fires but cause 82% of associated deaths and 64% of injuries.
- Adjust the thermostat on your water heater to keep hot water less than 120°F, to prevent scalds.
- Turn off the stove if you have to leave the kitchen while cooking. Unattended equipment is the #1 contributing factor in cooking fire deaths.
- Put on your glasses and read the fine print on that medicine bottle. Unintentional poisonings have risen steadily since 1992, and for people 35 to 54 years old, they’re causing more deaths than motor vehicle crashes. Know how much, and how often, you can safely take any medication whether prescription or over-the-counter, as well as possible interactions with other drugs.
- Keep the metal mesh screen of your fireplace closed, but leave glass doors open while burning a fire. The U.S. Fire Administration says leaving the doors open gives the fire enough air and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney. The screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace. Close the glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney from getting into the room.
If you can find just a few minutes use them to:
- Put away household cleaners and medications in a place that’s out of sight and reach of children.
- Clear clutter from hallways and exits to prevent tripping.
- Install handrails on stairs and adequate lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs. Leading causes of adult injuries include falls from stairs, steps and ladders.
- Use this fire safety checklist to check your home for hazards.
- Call to schedule an annual chimney cleaning.
- Play Help Mikey Make It Out with your kids. This fun, interactive game at www.homefiredrill.org teaches life-saving home escape lessons.
- Plan and practice your home escape. Working smoke alarms and CO detectors save lives, but does everyone in your home know what to do when they sound–especially in the middle of the night? Does everyone know your meeting place outside, where you can find each other and firefighters can find you? Visit www.homefiredrill.org.
- Check the manufacturers instructions to see if you should replace your CO detector. New York State law requires CO detectors to be installed in all new and existing homes having any fuel-burning appliance or attached garage. But you need a new detector every two to 10 years, depending on the model. Carbon monoxide kills in minutes, and unlike smoke from a fire it’s colorless, tasteless and odorless. It can be created by open flames, space heaters, water heaters, blocked chimneys or running a car inside a garage (even with the door open). If you have only one carbon monoxide detector, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends it be located near the sleeping area, where it can wake you.