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Fire safety advice for parents and guardians

Households with children can be at a higher risk of fire. Here is our advice to stay safe from fire, and help young children understand what to do, as well as what not to do.

It’s also important to have sensible and age-appropriate conversations with children to help them to understand the risks of fire, and what to do if there is a fire at home.

This page will help you understand:

  1. How to reduce the risk of fires happening in the first place.
  2. Where to put and how to use smoke alarms.
  3. How to escape a fire.

Know what to do in a fire


No-one likes to think that a fire might start, but being prepared can make all the difference. Don’t take any risks and don’t try to tackle the fire.


Make sure everyone in your home understands:

  1. Get out
  2. Stay out
  3. Call 999

Prevent a fire from starting

There are many simple ways you can reduce your risk of fire starting in the first place. Here are some top tips of particular note for households with children.

  • Take extra care with cooking and don’t get distracted. More than half the house fires we attend start in the kitchen.
  • We know there’s a lot of washing (and washing up) when it comes to children. Never leave your washing machine, tumble dryer, or dishwasher on when you’re out of the house, or at night. Read about a family in Barnstaple whose tumble dryer caused a fire.
  • Keep fire lighting material such as matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
  • Ensure you have child-proof fireguards in front of an open fire or heaters.
  • If you’re charging any sort of mobile device, for example laptops, phones etc, always charge them on a hard surface, and don’t leave them on their own.
  • Use laptops on a hard surface, swich off when not being used and don't leave charging. Read about an incident where a laptop set a carpet alight.
  • Be aware of how hot gaming devices can become when being used. Do not block airflow around the machine, make sure they are not covered with anything, and switch off completely when in use.
  • Never overload sockets or extension leads. Read more about electrical safety.

Look after your smoke alarms

Sadly, two thirds of fire deaths occur in properties where there is no working smoke alarm. More people die from smoke inhalation than the fire itself.

Where to put smoke alarms

You need at least one smoke alarm on each level of your home.

The more smoke alarms you have, the safer you'll be. As a minimum you should have one smoke alarm on each level of your home.

Smoke alarms should always be mounted on the ceiling, near the middle of the room, and at least 30cm away from a wall or light.

We recommend you have a smoke alarm in your hallway and also one at the top of your stairs. You could also have smoke alarms in bedrooms or sleeping areas.

Do not fit smoke alarms in kitchens or bathrooms where smoke or steam could set them off accidentally. Install a heat alarm in the kitchen instead.

When to test your smoke alarm

Test your smoke alarm. We would recommend you ideally test both your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm at least once a month. Can you get the kids to help you test it to help them know and understand the sound?

Read more about smoke alarms and what to buy

 


How to talk to children about smoke alarms

Children need to understand what it means when a smoke alarm sounds.

  • Watch this video about smoke alarms with your children.
  • Get your children involved in testing your smoke alarm, and talk to them about what to do if the smoke alarm sounds.
  • If you set off the alarm through cooking, talk calmly about what you are doing to silence the alarm. Explain that you know the alarm is telling you there is smoke from the cooking, but if the sound was from another reason for smoke, you would get out in case there was a fire.

 

Do children hear smoke alarms?

Research conducted in 2017 found that a smoke alarm would not wake the large majority of children. However, it is highly unlikely that a young child would be sleeping alone in a house, so an adult would hear the alarm and wake the child.

Children may be very frightened of the sound of a smoke alarm – particularly if they have additional needs. We recommend that when you do your smoke alarm testing, you also practise your escape plan with your child. This will help them to get used to the sound and also stay calm and know exactly what to do. This is the same as happens in fire drills in schools.

Fire safety advice for autistic children and adults ¦ East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (esfrs.org)


Be careful around fire

Fire is one of the most common causes of accidental injury and death among children. Children will learn from your behaviour so remember to act with care around fire.

  • The best way to teach children about fire safety is by example. As children will often copy the behaviour of adults, let your children see you being sensible and careful about cooking, candles and other potential fire risks.
  • If you’re a smoker or use lighters – make sure these are stored out of reach and away from children. It sounds like simple advice but serious fires have started from children playing with matches and lighters.
  • Most children show a natural interest and curiosity in fire - the glow from a real flame, blowing out their birthday candles, or even watching an adult light a cigarette. It is not uncommon for children as young as two to show an interest in fire.
  • With proper guidance and advice children can understand the risks and dangers of fire and what they need to do to keep safe and how to behave and act if there is a fire in the home.
  • If you think your child is showing an unhealthy interest in fire then please get in touch. We have a specialist education programme called ‘Firesetters’.

 

How to talk to your children about fire safety

Give children under five clear instructions of what they should and shouldn’t do. With older children, it’s better to also explain why.


You will probably need to talk about fire safety more than once, to make sure they have remembered and understood what you have taught them. Tell them:

  • never to play with matches, lighters or lighted candles and to tell a grown-up if they see matches or lighters lying around
  • never to play, or leave toys close to a fire or heater
  • not to pull on electric cables or fiddle with electrical appliances or sockets
  • never to switch on the cooker or put anything on top of it
  • never to touch any saucepans on the cooker.

Explain that fire is not a toy and that it can hurt and cause damage.

A memorable rhyme for young children: “matches, lighters, never touch, they can hurt you very much

 

Make an escape plan

You should have your escape route planned and everyone in your house should be familiar with it.
Do not delay your escape to save valuables or look for pets. Smoke from a fire is toxic and can render you unconscious in just two or three breaths.

Read our full guidance on how to make an escape plan.

 

How to talk to children about escape plans

It’s important that the children in your home know what to do in the event of a fire, but you need to take care about how to do this without frightening them.

  • Watch a video for children about escape plans
  • When making the fire escape plan include the children; everyone in the house needs to know what to do.
  • Practise and go through the fire escape plan together – practise in the dark too.
  • Download our printable escape plan sheet and go through this with children.
  • When talking to children refer to what they do at school in their fire drill – and apply that to your home situation.
    In school, children will regularly practice what to when the fire alarm goes off. Though the first time they hear the fire alarm at school they may have been scared, with time and reassurance from their teachers, they realise the importance of knowing what to do and how to behave in an emergency situation.

 

Do a ‘bedtime check’ every night

When you are asleep, it takes longer to notice the signs of a fire. If you don't have a working smoke alarm, there will be nothing to wake you.

To help prevent fires happening through the night, it's important to check your home for fire hazards before you go to bed.

Make sure you:

  • close internal doors at night to stop a fire from spreading – the smoke will still activate smoke alarms, but the door should hold the fire enough for you to get out safely. Another reason for closing doors is to try to keep your stairs free from smoke so you can use them to escape
  • check the cooker is turned off
  • turn off electrical appliances (unless they are meant to be left on, like your fridge or freezer), as well as turning off heaters
  • extinguish open fires or stoves, candles and cigarettes properly, and put up fireguards
  • keep exits clear of any large items, but also trip hazards
  • check that keys for doors are easily accessible.


Get in touch for advice or to book a home safety visit


We offer home safety visits for any households with a child under the age of 18. One of our friendly fire safety advisers will visit you at home and will help you:

  • check your smoke alarms are set up correctly
  • to make a fire escape plan
  • explain key fire risks in the home e.g. cooking and electricity
  • talk to you about keeping children safe
  • identify and discuss any further support where needed, including fitting specialist fire safety equipment where required.

Find out more and book a home safety visit.


Extra fire safety equipment for the home


We often have people asking whether we recommend buying a fire blanket, fire extinguisher or even having a ladder available to escape.

We do not recommend you have any of this equipment as it may encourage you to try to tackle a fire yourselves, which can be very dangerous. We want you to get out, stay out, and call 999.

Also for children

Why not get your child to fill in the fire safety notes worksheet.

We offer school fire safety visits to primary school years 2 and 5. Find out more about our fire safety education programmes and resources.



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