By Karen Sheehan, MD
Unfortunately, one of my daughter’s first memories is a when a garbage can alley fire spread to our house. (I would have preferred that her first memory be something wondrous, like a shooting star or a double rainbow.) We were very fortunate because there was no harm to my family and we had modest property damage. But it was a scary, memorable event filled with smoke, flames and noise.
Although the jury is still out on the role Mrs. O’Leary’s cow played in the great Chicago Fire, we take fires very seriously in the city. In fact, we had a prompt and commendable response from the Chicago Fire Department (CFD).
Through this experience, I also learned that, in addition to putting out fires, CFD’s website has a lot of good tips for parents and families on fire safety. Here are some good ones to keep in mind:
- Make sure you have a working smoke detector on every floor of your home, and near the bedrooms. (The key word is working). A good reminder is to change your battery when you change your clocks for daylight savings time. So go ahead and do it now if you forgot to do so a few weeks ago.There are some lithium battery smoke detectors that last up to 10 years, but it is still good to check them periodically. It’s also worth noting that some smoke detectors can be wired through your home alarm system, which offers extra monitoring and can help you save on your home insurance.
- Carbon monoxide detectors are required by law and especially important during colder months, when furnaces are being turned on again. If your alarm goes off, open the windows, get out of the house and call 911.
- Have a fire escape plan. This is critical. Smoke is disorienting. Kids will often hide under the bed or closet because they are scared. Practice two ways to get out of each room (usually a door and a window). Plan ahead so that you know where you are going to meet as a family when you exit your home.
- High rises raise special challenges. Know your building. Think about how you will get out if there is a fire. Know where the staircases are, because elevators should be avoided. Before you leave your apartment, check the door with the back of your hand. If it is warm, don’t open it because there could be a fire in the hallway.
I would have liked my daughter to have had a childhood filled only with joyful and happy memories. But I know this is not realistic, nor is it likely desirable, if I want her to become a capable, resilient adult. (At least that is what I keep telling myself. But perhaps that’s just smoke and mirrors.)
Dr. Karen Sheehan is a general pediatrician and a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. After taking care of kids who fell from windows, or were shot, or were hit by cars, it occurred to her that it would be better to prevent such injuries in the first place. She now focuses on prevention and maximizing a child’s health and well being.