Anne woke up early one morning and smelled something unusual. It smelled like someone had started a bonfire out in the backyard. But why would somebody do that at three o'clock in the morning?
Suddenly, Anne was wide awake. She realized there was smoke in her bedroom. It was coming through cracks in the floor around her radiator. Anne started to get really scared. There must be a fire in the apartment downstairs! Now her smoke detector was going off. "Beeeeeep! Beeeeeeep!" She could hear the smoke detector out in the hallway, too. The next thing Anne knew, her mom and dad were standing in her room. Her mom was holding their dog.
Her dad said, "Don't panic, honey, but we have to get out of the apartment as fast as we can." So, wearing just her pajamas, Anne joined her family and escaped from her apartment.
They followed a route they had discussed in advance: Through the big kitchen window, onto the fire escape and down the metal stairs to the back alley. By the time Anne and her parents were standing in the dark outside their building, they could hear fire engines coming. The firefighters ran into the building, and started to get to work to put out the fire.
Anne was right. The blaze had started in the apartment just below her bedroom, when a candle caught some curtains on fire. Before her neighbors knew it, their whole living room was starting to burn.
Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire at Anne's apartment building. Some people's property was damaged by smoke and water. Anne and her parents had to move out for a few weeks while their floor was repaired, but these inconveniences didn't seem very important when Anne and her parents thought about what could have happened.
Not everyone involved in a residential fire is as fortunate as Anne and her family were. Home fires injure and kill many people every year -- including children. According to the United States Fire Administration, 1,200 children die each year and more than 11,000 are injured by fires in their own homes.
Sometimes, kids get hurt in fires because they don't know what to do in an emergency. Little kids know enough to be scared of fire, but they may not know how to act if they get caught in one. If they hear sirens coming to their house, young children may hide under the bed or in a closet instead of trying to get outside. They think they'll be safe there.
Little kids may also be scared of firefighters. A large figure carrying an ax who walks through black smoke and says, "Come with me," can be terrifying to a small child.
Firefighters tell stories about kids they have rescued from burning buildings who didn't want to leave "until my mom is here." Little kids may also avoid telling grownups about a fire if they see one. They may think the fire is their fault, and they don't want to get in trouble. Sometimes, the fire may actually be their fault. Small children playing with matches or lighters can start a blaze in no time. When this happens, they may hide instead of telling someone about it.
This week -- Oct. 7-13 -- is National Fire Prevention Week. During this week, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, headquartered at Children's Hospital National Medical Center in the District, wants to remind every family in the country to check their smoke detectors and to practice how to escape from their houses if a fire does happen.
Safety experts are concerned because studies have shown that many people don't keep their smoke detectors in working order. Studies by the National Fire Prevention Association showed that about half of smoke detectors in homes in the United States would fail to work during fires. And that's just plain dumb.
If you have a working smoke detector in your house, your chances of dying in a fire are cut in half. Smoke detectors should be tested once a month. They should be cleaned regularly and new batteries inserted at least once a year.
During fire prevention week, ask your parents to check your smoke detectors. Ask them to go through a home fire drill with you, too. That way, if you ever smell smoke in your house, you will know exactly what to do.Tips for Parents
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign urges parents to teach children what to do in a fire: 1. Get out fast. Seconds count. Phone for help from a neighbor's home, not from inside a burning building. 2. Crawl low under the smoke. Temperatures are lowest at floor level. 3. Test the door. If it's hot or there's smoke, use another way out. 4. Cover your mouth and nose. Grab a shirt or anything within reach. This will help protect your lungs from dangerous fumes. 4. Once out, stay out. There's nothing more important in your home than you. The National SAFE KIDS Campaign is headquartered at Children's Hospital National Medical Center. For more information, contact SAFE KIDS, 111 Michigan Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20010-2970; (telephone) 202-939-4993. Catherine O'Neill is a freelance children's writer.