Fire Safety for Kids: Advice From a Firefighter

Fire Safety for Kids: Advice From a Firefighter

Is your house safe? Does your child know how to call 911? Do you have a family emergency plan?

Listen in as we talk to a firefighter about simple steps to safety and common sense information for a sense of security. Learn from the people first on the scene!

Special Guest: Firefighter and paramedic, Steve Sweeney.

In This Episode

  • 00:36 – Opening: Welcome Steve
  • 04:07 – Being a Firefighter
  • 07:55 – Simple Safety Steps
  • 12:20 – Emergency Plans
  • 18:22 – Educating Children
  • 20:24 – Caller of the Day: Ashley
  • 20:53 – Calling 911
  • 23:45 – Fire Extinguishers
  • 29:55 – Real Stories
  • 33:45 – Natural Disasters
  • 36:47 – Closing Comments

Resources on Fire Prevention & Safety

Fire Safety Statistics

  • Every year 5,000 Americans die from fire and smoke. That’s 12 a day! Another 21,000 suffer serious injuries.
  • A house in the U.S. is touched by fire every minute.
  • Children under 5 years old are twice as likely as all others to die by fire.
  • 80% of deaths by fire are in the home. Deaths from fires and burns are the 5th most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the U.S.
  • Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns.
  • Cooking is the primary cause of residential fires.

Most Common Fire Hazards to Be Aware of

  • Burning candles
  • Smoking in bed
  • Unattended stoves
  • Space heaters
  • Overloaded electrical outlets

Top 6 Ways to Keep Your Kids & Family Safe

  1. Have working smoke detectors. Test them monthly and replace batteries twice a year.
  2. Have a rehearsed emergency plan: two ways out, meeting place, never go back in.
  3. Teach your children about fire safety – especially about matches and lighters.
  4. Have a “Kid Free Zone” around the stove. Tell them to always keep a 3 feet distance.
  5. Never put ashes in the trash can.
  6. Install Residential Sprinklers. They can stop a fire in its track.

Holiday Fire Safety

According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), fires occurring during the holiday season injure 2,600 individuals and cause over $930 million in damage each year. Most common causes are holiday tree fires, lights, decorations, and scented candles.

Episode Transcript

Steve Sweeney: Hi, this is Steve. I’m a firefighter and you’re listening to Vicky and Jen. What really matters.

Jen: Hi, this is Vicky and Jen, making life simple so you can enjoy what really matters.

Vicky: Welcome to our show. Did you know that 80 percent of deaths by fire are actually started in the home? So today we are talking with firefighter Steve about keeping your family safe. Steve thank you so much for joining us today.

Steve Sweeney: Sure.

Jen: It was really easy coming up with questions for you. I know I for one am very curious about what you do. A lot of people were fascinated just by the thought of fighting fires. I’m curious about your line of work so it was easy for us to come up with questions to ask you today.

Jen: Now I asked my son Aiden who is four and a half. We’re going to meet with Steve. He’s a firefighter. Do you have any questions for him? And he said no and I said Well don’t don’t you want to ask how he fights fires. And he said well mom I already know from Touch a Truck they use a hose. So in our community, they brought in different vehicles. A fire truck was one and he got to sit in one in the driver’s seat. And I guess that’s all he needs to know right now how satisfying he is for programs like that are great.

Steve Sweeney: You know they get the kids involved and they teach kids about fire safety from the start all the way through. You know when they become adults. And that’s those are great programs.

Jen: Yeah. And you know I think as adults we’re very curious I mean in my opinion you have one of the most respected jobs in the country and a lot of people are curious about what goes on in the fire. How so. So why. Well tell us about yourself and why did you decide to be a firefighter.

Steve Sweeney: Well I’ve been a fireman and an EMT for about 13 years. Really I’ve been wanting to be a fireman probably since Aiden say you know since I was really young and just never grew out of that and looked at other professions so I did a little military work for a while and when I got out of the military I look and what I wanted to do. And I’ve been always drawn to the fire service. It’s a fun profession, rewarding, and dangerous.

Vicky: Did that scare you.

Steve Sweeney: You know it can be dangerous just driving down the road. The danger is real. You know we get some great training. We have some great equipment out there to keep us safe and if we just as fire safety if you follow the rules and you plan ahead and know you and you train yourself you can stay fairly safe.

Jen: Well I think that’s so neat that you knew at an early age this is what you wanted to do because I think a lot of children want to be like you. They were a firefighter and they grow up. So what do your kids think about your job?

Steve Sweeney: Well I have a 4-year-old. She likes coming down there. She went down to a firehouse and probably just like any other child. You know they’re always fascinated by the fire department and she does she realize that it can be dangerous and does that scare her at all.

Steve Sweeney: We try to kind of downplay the scariness of my job just to ward off any type of you know nightmares or things like that. Sure. But you know I try to stress around home more of the safety and know what does dad do when he goes to work. You know he goes and tries to make everybody safe and tries to help people.

Jen: So what does your job entail you know besides the obvious.

Steve Sweeney: Well in our fire department we work 24 48 we’re on one day and we’re off so we’re at the firehouse for 24 hours at a time. So you’re living with about 130 or life with the people you work with. So you develop a unique bond with the guys you work with and ladies you work with and one that allows you to gain confidence in their abilities and your abilities to help them out and vice versa.

Vicky: So there’s a lot of trust involved. I’m sure.

Steve Sweeney: Absolutely. You know when you’re going into a hazardous environment and there’s limited visibility and it’s hot and you start to go into a building that everybody is leaving only one person on your right near me.

Jen: You know even like that I knew that you spent a lot of time together that you certainly work long hours and you were forced to you know to have a second family. But I never thought that how important that was was to bond and to get to know each other.

Steve Sweeney: Yeah because everybody has strengths everybody has weaknesses and most everybody’s strengths and weaknesses complement each other. So when you go to work you know you’ve got strong ones and you’ve got smart ones and you’ve got fast employees and so everybody kind of knows each other’s strengths so you can kind of complement each other’s strengths

Vicky: And you share cooking skills too right? Do you cook?

Steve Sweeney: Yes.

Jen: What do you what do you usually make for the other firefighters?

Steve Sweeney: We strive with comfort food that’s meat and potatoes and things like that. Something that some reason we’d have to leave the stove right away. You can turn everything off and I can come back to it and maybe just pour some warm gravy over the top of it.

And you know if I don’t need you right after one of those big meals everybody’s in a food coma. Oh no. Sometimes that happens. Now the firefighters just don’t fight fires. You get other calls. What other types of calls.

In our department, we also handle the human side of the house and we do for fires and that’s the emergency medical side of the of our business. And it’s becoming probably I’m going to guess 75 percent of our business now runs we because of increased fire safety programs and things like that and building materials are built not to burn and fighting less firefighting for that.

It is really good. It’s very encouraging. It’s nice. It’s great. Well is there ever a boring day at work where I am now.

We make about anywhere from seven to 12 runs in a 24 hour period so we stay pretty busy. If there are other outer lying houses that are less busy and I think if I was at one of those houses it would get kind of boring.

So yeah I like the excitement. Yeah yeah. You know I think everybody starts in the fire service is a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. So no I think you are too because of you a bomb tech too. Yeah we are a fire company handles the bomb squad and we were all bomb technicians. So we had about an adrenaline junkie. Yeah.

Now tell us about that now. I believe

It’s not just another just another aspect of our business so would you think are some simple steps that families can follow to keep their families safe while they’re in their homes.

The number one if anybody will take anything from this broadcast out is us working smoke detectors and smoke detectors with a battery working smoke detector.

So basic. Everybody has firefighters in their homes with batteries right.

Well everybody does but do they leave them in there after they’ve burnt the bacon that’s gone off and they’ve taken the battery out of the smoke detector and they replace it.

It happens a lot.

Are there smoke detectors out there that are better than the roster or are they all the same if you were to go purchase one.

Yeah, there’s different features and smoke detectors. Even your little most inexpensive smoke detectors nowadays are very good. Did they detect the smoke the lights the basic they what they are at this point in time the technology is so inexpensive you can get a smoke detector for well under ten dollars. And if you still can’t afford those smoke detectors hundred ten dollars you probably can go to your local fire department and just ask for one and they will give you one.

Do they keep any statistics on how many lives smoke detectors save? I mean it seems like that would be a hard statistic to track yet.

They do. Out of all of the fire fatalities in the country in the United States, there are very few firefighter tallies that are where the smoke and the working smoke detector was in the home. Really. Yes, it’s it’s as low as I believe and 20 percent.

Wow. Well, I found a statistic that a house in the United States is touched by fire every single minute every minute and that there’s a fire in a residential home. That’s amazing. And about 5000 Americans die from fire and smoke every year. That’s true it’s like 12 or 13 a day.

And out of those very few of those fire fatalities had a working smoke detector in their home. So what it tells us that working obviously and it’s a cliche we save smoke detectors save lives and that is absolutely true. They definitely do. So out of if anything to take away from listening to the listening today is as have a working smoke detector and a change of batteries at least twice a year.

Test when that time changes. Change your clock time during memory and change your clock. Change your balance of fortune change what you know actually change you change your battery. I’m kind of the guilty one of taking a smoke detector down when it goes off when I’m cooking and it’s annoying. It is it’s very annoying and I have one in my kitchen and it goes off you make you take it down.

All of them have now smoke detectors out there that have a silenced button that allow you to press the button if it’s if you know it’s been activated.

Cook Ray Watmore you know.

Some places say smoke detectors going off dinner’s ready.


So you can press the silence button and it silences the smoke alarm and that prevents you from having to remove the battery and then it will reset itself.

So there’s a fire every minute in this country what’s causing these fires what are the most common hazards where you can be burning candles unattended candles there so there’s a wide variety of different causes for fires unattended candles smoking in bed on a kitchen stove when you’re cooking where you place something on the stove thinking I’m just going to be gone for just a minute. I go upstairs or downstairs or go outside. And before you know it then you have a fire on your stove.

Now speaking of getting out I live in a two story house and I know I need to get one of those second story ladders which I do not. Those are clothes or credit to get to the family two story homes. Everybody who has a two-story home should have one.

If you don’t have two ways out of your your your room and there’s a window and it’s too far to jump safely then you should have a fire ladder.

So in every room, I should probably have one in every room at least every bedroom you should have two ways out.

And if you do not have a plan if the first exit is the door. Going into the hallway if you can’t exit from there have a plan on what to do. And one thing you can do is close the door. You could pad the door cracks to prevent smoke from entering the room go to the window crack the top and the bottom of the window and wait for rescue.

One thing you have to watch when you open that door it may cause a draft to allow more smoke to enter the room. At that stage, if that happens you need to be prepared to immediately shut the window leave the draperies open stand in front of the window say here with a flashlight so they can see a or a light-colored cloth and just wave it in front of the window.

Well, something I’ve found I was just kind of reading over some stuff and I have two small kids minor three and two and I haven’t really talked about fires and evacuation in a meeting spot and stuff like that. But something that I found that I would like to do immediately is I read about tot finders decals that you put I guess on you all the way down to their bedroom when you get those. I don’t know.

You can you can get them at home improvement stores and things like that.

The biggest thing with those as a firefighter when we respond to a fire we can look for those. But that doesn’t always indicate where the rescue should start. Right. We have a procedure obviously if it’s late at night and most people are sleeping if there’s a fire and we have cause to believe that there might be someone in the building we’re going to go in and start our search in the bedroom areas and then work our way out. At the same time, there’ll be a crew going in and they will aggressively attack the fire. So you’ll have a crew that does a search and a crew to aggressively track the fire and the top five top finders are a good indicator that this is a bedroom where a child may be but a fire plan probably would be better utilized as far as evacuation plan than to put a tot finder in your window.

Now I hear what you’re saying. Get busy. Don’t have tents.

Well, they do they have for pets. But you know when when when the fire occurs in your house pretty much all bets are off unless you have a good evacuation plan as everybody knows when the stress level goes up or IQ goes down. And when our stress. We’re in a stressful situation. We do exactly what we’ve been taught and if the only thing about fire safety we were taught was in kindergarten and when we were lined up in front of the door waiting for instructions

That might be the only thing to keep you awake going to tell me what to do exactly. And it did. It is.

We sit here and it’s it is kind of funny but at the same time, it’s not.

It happens a lot where because I have not had a plan I have not practiced my plan when my stress level goes up. I do nothing.

Hi Jane. This just justifies why we’re doing this. I know this is important but the education doesn’t stop in kindergarten right. This is the first time. I know I’ve sat down and asked good questions like this so I can develop a plan for my family. And all I remember from kindergarten is drop. Stop stop stop. Well, and I guess with Jasmine and Jade being so young I haven’t really gone over that but when I think about it. They’re old enough I can I can do that because I even have another statistic that kids under 5 are twice as likely to die in a fire than all other age groups. And part of that I believe is because they get scared and they’ll hide under the bed or in the closet. And they could be really hard to find and when I think about it that could be what my kids would do. So I need to get on the ball and physically make an evacuation route in and practicing and get my ladders.

That that happens a lot when we search a room. We just don’t search the open areas.

One place we search as you said John underneath a bed right in closets in toy boxes because we don’t know if we don’t know where do we go for comfort. We either go into bed and cover selves up with a sheet with the covers or we go hide underneath the bed to gain some sort of comfort or we go on toybox and hide. And when something Frances we go try to hide and if we have not been taught this is what we do we go to the door.

We feel the door if the door is warm we don’t open it. We go to the window and go on our second way out our second means of egress.

Do you do programs at schools and stuff to teach kids this? There I mean I don’t want to lay all this shouldn’t be on the firefighters this is a parent’s responsibility.

But if it maybe starts yes school it’s funny you parents can tell children you know how to be safe and things like that.

They don’t listen to us.

His children don’t really listen to their parents when they went there.

When a firefighter stands up and says take this fire safety plan home and make one at your house walk around your house find the fire hazards that we talk about in this program that will make a fire escape plan with your mom and dad. It’s a child’s responsibility. They’re empowered by feeling that hey they’re contributing a job to do their job to do.

This is this is my project and I am teaching my mom and dad my mom and dad aren’t teaching me. I am teaching them right. So when there is a problem. Well, it involves them and it gets you going. Right.

It drains the safety aspect of things what to do in their mind. So when there is when there is an emergency rate they immediately say I know exactly what to do. I’m not afraid because I go I feel the door the door is not hot, I can exit and I can go out to my meeting place and that is another part of the fire safety plan. The exit plan is to have a meeting place see whether it’s in the neighbor’s front porch. If it’s the mailbox tree out in front where everybody goes to meet and once we get to the meeting place we never go back in the building never go back again not for a pet not from another loved one because the other loved one might be making their way out saying they might be going out the back door secular Shiite community.

Hello, my name is Ashley. You are listening to Vicky & Jen, What Really Matters.

My question is what age should I start teaching my children to dial 911 in case of emergency.

You know would the fire department rather have the kind of for curiosity’s sake I guess call it and have a false call. That happens a lot. Yeah great.

Yeah, that happens a lot. And in my notes here I have 911 and kids and I have an answer of yes definitely teach your children how to activate emergency services if you have. Most everyone across the country has 911 service. Now a couple of rural areas may have a telephone number but teach your children how to dial that number and give information give their name even if they don’t actually know their address. The fact that they dial the number with the instant it doesn’t it kind of caller with caller ID say unless it’s on a cell phone or the home phone will the dispatcher will know exactly where the call is coming from. And if the child just says hey we have an emergency if it’s a medical emergency or if it’s a fire emergency they can start the emergency service proper emergency service head into the house. Yep, children will be curious and they will be missed Civitas is something that shouldn’t stop us as parents from teaching them early.


You can always say well when the firemen arrive and the firemen show up and all their equipment and walk through the door and all their evasiveness the children will get the idea immediately that maybe I shouldn’t do this again if it’s a false call and it probably won’t happen again.

We would probably be the last day right. We would rather have the false call than have no call at all.

So definitely teach your children it’s good to know because again you know with my kids being 2 and three I can kind of putting it off I guess so I guess I need to start teaching. I do. Jasmine does know her street and everything now right. Which helps and she knows our real names as opposed to mommy and daddy.

It sounds like those are the key things, Jen. Their name their address and their phone number in terms of safety and the call take a 911 call taker.

They do get training on how to handle a child on the phone. Sure. Because in this situation where we have to give the information right away. Sometimes we forget where we left sometimes we forget the numbers we mix up numbers but the call taker can sometimes put the child at ease and say you know what part of the city do you live in. And what was the situation in the house? Is there a fire or is it a medical emergency or something like that. So the call taker has been trained on how to handle a child.

We talked about simple things that you can do at home such as the smoke detectors and we talked about the ladders but I’m thinking of another thing that everyone should have and that would be fire extinguishers fire extinguishers are very that must be must your house.

The I would say a must. It definitely helps. But don’t get caught up in fighting the fire and not exiting the building. If it’s a small fire on the stove fire extinguishers can definitely put the fire out safely. Without the further extension the fire. But if you use the fire extinguisher small home fire extinguishers usually last less than a minute. I don’t know. And once the fire extinguisher is empty if the fire is still active get out.

Drop the fire extinguisher and get out. Don’t find another means Dave I’ll you go to the bathroom and when he gets cups of water and I must continue to try to fight this fire there it sounds like people do that.

They do that a lot. Yeah. And then you find you know we’ve seen hoses from the garden drug into the house and that’s the that’s the wrong idea.

You know it’s not worth it and it’s not worth it. Right now I’ve had my fire my fire extinguishers probably for 10 years. They still read that they’re active. That little meter tells me that it’s still charged. Do they go bad. Is that they do. What point do you just need to get a new one.

After 10 years I would replace the fire extinguisher even though it says it’s charges in the red right or in the green or whatever just the the meter says it’s charge. Yeah after 10 years you should replace your. You’re fired. Also after 10 years, you should replace your smoke detector. They’re usually last much longer than 10 years. But the sensors do though bad they are manmade and they’re mechanical or electronic and sometimes electronics. Do you need to be replaced.

Well, I found from personal experience that one of the hardest things about a fire extinguisher is knowing how to use it.

You’re going to want to hit comes to a lot easier to do. Well, I know better than your glasses and really want to actually check that out before you need it. Jan that’s a great good good engine. You should.

You don’t have to discharge the fire extinguisher but to pick up the fire extinguisher look at it. Read the directions and then go through the motions of putting the fire out. You want to put it to low to the base of the fire at the prescribed distance to punting on the type of fire extinguisher and then activate the fire extinguisher and try to put the fire out. And as you said Jane if you don’t practice with a fire extinguisher you might be just blowing dust in the wind right. You know it just may be ineffective and just goes along with rehearsing your fire plan rehearse with your fire extinguisher rain.

Well, I know from personal experience that you do need to check that out. And I also appreciate the fire department very much because they helped me and what was amazing to me was you know I called 911 one in the response time was amazing and the professionalism was amazing and they actually didn’t make me feel like a total idiot that I knew I was at that moment.

They should never do that. They did and it was great. Even though I kept saying I did something really silly I was spray painting my concrete floor in the basement with that a decorative you know spookily paint or whatever. It’s kind of like you know where my washing machine was stuff like that. Spray painting that. And I checked everything to make sure everything was off except the water heater. The pilot in the water light in the water heater and I was in that vicinity and I ran out of my first can of spray paint. I walked out of that little room to get another can I’m opening the can. And the room that’s three feet away from me is so small kind of enclosed space. I know I know. And it literally went. Steve ringlet I know. I know. And literally, the flames were about four feet high. The actual air was on fire. The fumes were on fire. And I had just walked out of that room. The pilot light kicked on and ignited all my spray paint fumes. I can laugh about it now but I was like five seconds away from being in the middle of these flames.

I’m like oh my gosh when did this happen.

Before you had kids. Yeah. Before I was pregnant I was I remember still playing volleyball at the time so I had a volleyball game that night.

So it was probably five years ago and that happens to a lot of people spray paint spraypaint and they’re enclosed. You know what it says on the can.

You know but she knew what she told me Steve before we we had this interview today that she had a story to tell and that I was going to call her an idiot but I can’t call her in any it because I I I may have done the same thing that night. The water heater for heaven’s sake.

I checked the furnace and everything but I didn’t think about the pilot light on the routers are now dug great now is chatting ice calling you bad names.

He has sympathy for you but I do know I do know what other can you think of any other common mistakes.

There were some great stories. You know they would teach us something. Well that was I don’t know if I could top that story. Like the one of the day, he’s going to go back to work and tell people about that. Yeah yeah. He already has. I know that’s a that’s a good question John because people learn from other people’s mistakes and people sit around the water cooler at work and they talk about a story that they heard on the news or they repeat that story. And we learned from the embers. I would like to hear real stories you know we hadn’t got any we had an incident.

This was back in the winter. It got really cold.