The very first home fire I worked on for the American Red Cross was one that killed a grandmother and her grandchildren. I had been with the organization for a week and I was devastated. What I didn’t know was that for multiple reasons, home fires are all too often an intergenerational tragedy. Sometimes it happens because the parents are at work and the grandparents are home with the kids when the fire happens. Sometimes it is because the youngest and the oldest in the house need the most help evacuating. Whatever the reasons, prevention options are clear. In three steps young and old (and everyone in between) can prepare for home fires or any other disaster. The best part is it is something that the generations can do together.
1. Get a kit. Having a disaster preparedness kit both at home and in the car will help to make sure you are ready when the time comes. The kit should be stocked full of three days’ supply of food and water (less is needed in the car of course) along with a battery or hand crank powered radio, extra blankets, toiletries and other essentials one needs when sheltering in place or are forced to evacuate. When packing the kit think about what special needs your family has—diapers and formula for the baby, extra medications and insurance cards for older folks. Packing some games and a few treats (think chocolate and a few good books!) will take some of the fear factor out of the experience for everyone. Plus, having that little touch of home means a lot in case you are living in a shelter or hotel for a few days.
2. Make a plan. Having an evacuation plan to escape your home when there is a fire means the difference between life and death. Know two exits out of every room and have escape ladders installed on the second floor bedrooms. Check your smoke detectors regularly and replace the batteries often. A good rule of thumb is to change the batteries when we change the clocks (November 4th is the next time). In addition to the escape plan, know where everyone will meet after the fire. It could be across the street or at a neighbor’s house. It doesn’t matter as long as everyone knows where to go. Finally, practice your escape plan with the entire family a couple of times a year. Putting the kids in charge of the drill empowers them to take it seriously and helps to take the fear out of the potential situation.
3. Be informed. House fires don’t discriminate by age. We are all at risk of that disaster. But knowing what else can happen where you live whether it is a tornado, hurricane or blizzard is important. And knowing what to do and how to stay safe is essential. More details on all three steps are available here http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family.
Preparedness is for all ages, so all ages can be together without worry. Visit RedCross.org for some great resources about how to keep your family safe. Check out the downloadable Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors. There is also a great section called Reducing Fear in Uncertain Circumstances directed at helping kids prepare. And of course an entire section just about home fires.
Do you have other ideas about how seniors and kids can prepare together? Leave them in the comment section below.
Douglas Lent is the Director of Communications for the American Red Cross of the Chesapeake Region. Previously he was the Manager of Communications at Generations United. He and his wife Jaia really do have disaster preparedness kit at home and in the car.
Photo Credits: American Red Cross