Last week as I was washing some dishes, I smelled smoke and went outside. The whole side of my house was on fire! I am usually pretty calm in stressful situations, but all that went out the window on this particular day. I shouted at my boys, "Fire! Get out of the house!" Their sweet faces read confusion, but they obeyed as I chased them out the front door. I was able to grab the phone and my keys and I called 911 as I ran. I loaded the boys in the car, and moved it a good distance from the house.
I went close to the house to survey things. The fire was on one corner only, so I did what everyone tells you not to do. I went back inside. Once in, I grabbed our important paperwork, some family jewelry, my purse and Cooper's car seat. By then, the first responders were there giving me directions and clearing us away from the area. Thankfully, the fire was easily subdued, and the damaged contained to the outside. None of our personal property was even damaged! After things settled down and I realized how incredibly blessed I was, I thought about a lot of practical advice I learned from my experience. Here it is.
1. It is super important to discuss fire safety with your kids. I was blessed to have everyone in the same room when the fire broke out in the daytime. Circumstances would have been much different if it was nighttime, or I hadn't smelled the fire right away. Discuss escape routes, what to do if you see or smell smoke, how to call 911, etc.
2. Have the right equipment. This one seems obvious, but I for one was very ill-equipped. You need working and recently tested fire alarms, a fire extinguisher, and if you live on the second floor, a rope ladder for at least one window. You can find these online.
3. Keep your landline phone. I know it's the era of cell phones, and we often get rid of our house phone to save some cash, but 911 responders can have a hard time finding you if you live in a well-populated area. When I called 911 from my home phone, and I was shouting hysterically at the man on the other end, he calmly said, "Ma'am, are you calling from "such and such" address? We're sending someone there right away." If you use your cell phone, they have to triangulate your call, and this process can be innaccurate in a densely populated area, especially condos and apartments. If you are not able to easily communicate in a crisis, respinse time may take longer.
4. Keep important paperwork in a Ziplock bag in an easily reached location. Should an emergency arise, you can grab passports, birth certificates, social security cards, etc in one shot.
5. Likewise, keep valuable or sentimental jewelry in an organized fashion so you could grab it in a hurry.
6. Keep your photos digitized! Have them saved on an external hard drive, or better yet, upload them onto a site that will store them indefinitely. This way, you will not be lugging around boxes and boxes of photos in an emergency.
7. Check your insurance policies. Make sure they are up to date, and cover all your high-ticket items. It may be necessary to purchase riders on certain items, such as jewelry. They are inexpensive and sooo worth it! Never ever go without renter's insurance. You can not afford the risk, and most policies start around $25 a month.
8. Never ever risk your life for stuff. If it is too smoky to see and breathe clearly, your only thought shoould be getting out safely. Yes, it will be inconvenient or sad to lose items, but never risk your safety for stuff.
I hope these thoughts will help you prepare your family for a fire. You never think you will need it until you need it!