One of the things that we as practitioners worry about a lot is how we can keep the children in our care safe. You can see our Safeguarding article on page 34 for more information about how to look after safeguarding more generally in your setting. But in this article, we are going to look into the issue of fire and how we can use this year’s Fire Prevention Week to not only keep our children safe, but spread the word about fire and some of the danger it holds for younger children.
Fire Prevention Week runs from the 3rd – 9th October 2021 and is an American week aimed at fire prevention. In the UK, a national fire prevention week has been superseded by an array of specific awareness days and weeks such as Fire Door Safety Week, Electrical Fire Safety Week, as well as Chimney Fire Safety Week.
It doesn’t really matter however, because fire safety is important to everyone wherever they are in the world, and the recent tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire should be enough to alert us all to the very real dangers that fires still pose, even in modern Britain. Following investigations into Grenfell, there have been changes to legislation related mainly to residential buildings which require more rigorous fire safety checks and risk assessments for different materials on these buildings. And although they mainly relate to residential buildings, you cannot be too careful when if comes to fire safety, so it may be time to revisit your settings’ fire risk assessment as a matter of course.
Why teach fire safety?
Many young children do not recognise the dangers that fire poses to them, and children are one of the groups with the highest number of fire-related deaths each year with approximately 500 deaths a year in the under-14 age group. Many deaths are caused by smoke inhalation where little lungs are more affected than adults. Children under 5 may not be able to escape from a fire themselves and may instead, head to a favourite place of ‘safety’ such as under a bed or in a cupboard instead of leaving the building. Older children may feel the need to return to a building if they have left something like a favourite toy or pet behind. For all these reasons and more, children need to be taught about fire safety early – what they can do to prevent fires, and what they should do in the event of a fire.
If you visit the US Fire Prevention Week website, you will find lots of useful information and advice on how you can introduce the topic into your setting and although they have an American focus, there are still many useful resources and games that you can adapt for UK settings.
Some basic fire checks and procedures you should do regularly
- If you hear a fire alarm, get out and stay out – dial 999!
- Ensure all your fire exits are well signposted, have backup power lighting and are not obstructed in any way
- Teach children how to raise the alarm in the event of a fire
- Test smoke alarms regularly, at least once a month – most fire brigades recommend a sealed ten-year unit so that you don’t need to change the batteries, but if you don’t have a sealed unit, you need to remember to change the batteries once a year
- Keep paper stacked neatly and try to avoid having too much waste paper in one place so empty bins regularly
- Run fire drills especially at the nursery and make sure everyone knows where to meet – ensure too that you have dedicated fire marshals, readily available registers and people to take them, as well as escape plans for anyone who may not be ale to walk out easily, such as a wheelchair users or those with impaired mobility
- Ensure that you have a fire drill procedure for children with special needs – this might involve have a code word/visual signal rather than a loud alarm or ensuring that there are ear defenders for children if they need them
- Encourage your families to have a plan and to practice fire evacuation procedures at home
- Check fire doors – make sure they close properly and never prop them open
- Teach children about the risk of fire or burns/scalds in a kitchen and keep all hot items out of reach of children
- NEVER leave children alone with a fire risk
- Teach children what to do in the event of a clothes fire such as “stop, drop and roll” technique and the dangers of smoke
- Don’t overload sockets and check plugs and sockets for electrical fire safety. It’s best to turn electrical items off at night rather than leaving them on standby – it’s safer and also uses less energy
- Use a childproof fireguard in front of an open fire or heater
- Teach children about the dangers of playing with matches and ensure all fire hazards are safely locked away from little fingers
- Cover all plug sockets with safety covers
- Ensure your staff are trained in how to treat paediatric burns and scalds with first aid and keep their training up-to-date with regular revision sessions
- Make sure you keep children away from dangerous items by locking these items in cupboards with childproof locks
- Remember to check doors for heat before opening them
- Crawl near the ground if in a fire to avoid toxic smoke and fumes
These are just some of the things that you might consider teaching or going over in your setting, but there are a lot more things that you can cover too. Think about:
- Candle safety
- Bonfire night fire safety
- Garden fire safety
- Christmas lights fire safety
- Burn and scalds awareness
There are some good ideas about how to engage children in fire safety at the website fireangel.co.uk including a list of some child-friendly videos. Your local fire station will also be involved in prevention advice and you may be able to arrange a visit to your setting along with some useful educational sessions or fire alarm checks.