Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fire Drills

Photo Credit

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

We moved into a mobile home a year ago. It is a humble, lovely place with a killer view of the ocean. I have to confess that I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect of living here. Perhaps I'm a bit of a snob (though I hate to confess that too loudly). Snobbery aside, there was one very practical reason for not wanting to live long in a tin box made of press board: FIRE!

I'm sure you've heard the rumors--that mobile homes go up in flames in a matter of minutes. New home jitters plague us all, and in addition to cowering before the crazy sound of the mild winds that threatened to tear our cracker box apart, I spent several nights worried about what would happen in a fire.

My kids are 5 and 8 years old. Though I spent the first years of Orion's life using fear to govern many of his actions (you might fall, you might bump your head, you might get hurt), I've done my best in recent years to put fear to rest by changing my language and taking action as much as I can.

It was my intent to train my children to exit their bedroom swiftly and safely without bringing a terror of fire into their minds and hearts. I really felt completely inadequate to the task, especially since I had such a fear about it.

Imagine my surprise this morning when my daughter ran in through the front door exclaiming, "Mommy, I did it! I climbed out the window and down the ladder, and Orion was there to help me."

Next thing I knew, Orion was shouting, "Mom, we need the sound of fire. Stop that video you're watching on YouTube and find us a video with the sound of fire." How could I say No?

They've now been practicing for the past half an hour of their own accord. Just a moment ago, Orion ran into my office with Zara trailing behind. "Grab the phone and dial 9-1-1."

Wow! Seriously, I have never put all of these things together for them. NEVER!

This is the fruit of countless short dialogues and a few brief demonstrations over the past year about fire, about opening the window, about pulling up the curtain. It is the culmination of a couple of brief conversations I had with Eric and the kids about making the outside of their window safe for them to climb down quickly and easily.

I expected him to put a bunch of pots or a step stool out there so they could drop down from the window ledge pretty easily. Within several days of the last conversation we had, the kids and Eric found themselves outside together working in the yard. One of the kids must have brought up the topic, and next thing I know they're running in to show me the ladder that was outside the window. Orion expressed his concern about the rickety nature of the ladder, and I just reassured him, "You'll go first and then hold the ladder for Zara." He nodded, somewhat relieved of his fears.

I knew they needed practice, and I prayed that I would remember sometime when I wasn't lying on the bed imagining the sounds of fire crackling. One day Orion opened the curtains and the window of his own accord. "I did it, Mom!"

The curtain was a little lopsided, and the window wasn't open very far. "Yes! You did great, Son!" I exclaimed. Who's going to care if the blinds are damaged in a fire? And surely if he can open the window that far, then he can open it all the way.

Over the course of a year, we've talked perhaps 30 to 40 times about fire safety in our home. We've established a meeting place (a neighbor's house at the end of our road). We've talked about how quickly our house would burn and that they need to keep a singular focus on getting each other out of the house. I've assured him that Mommy and Daddy will be able to get out, too, and that we would meet them at our neighbor's house.

Even writing that makes me scared, but I tell them with conviction because I'm confident that by teaching them to take responsibility for themselves, they will be safe. I can't tell you how encouraged I am that setting a goal and making small moves toward its culmination has set in motion a precedent for the future.

Now I know that it will be simple to establish a fire safety protocol for any house we move into. For this first time, it took almost a year to introduce the concept to them in an action-based, fear-defying way. Next time, I'm certain we'll be having drills within a month of settling in, again in an action-based, fear-defying way.

I don't know how to convey fully the relief and amazement I feel. It is so easy to second guess myself as a mom: Am I saying the right thing? Are they really going to know what to do? Shouldn't I hurry this along? What if there's a fire and they don't know what to do?

We haven't had even a threat of a fire, and now even if we do, my kids are prepared. I can rest easier at night knowing that they feel confident in their escape plan. They've practiced, and surely they'll practice again. In fact, we will all practice together very soon. Having an action plan makes me feel safe, and I know it makes them feel safe too. Knowing that I didn't have to drive the fear of fire into them to get them to practice, and knowing that it happened naturally over the course of simple dialogues and demonstrations makes me feel confident about the other dangers for which I must prepare them.

In case you think your child will soon come to you asking for the sounds of fire on YouTube, I recommend this video, which surprisingly allows for 8 hours of uninterrupted practice!


  1. Kudos! Practice is so good--love it that you have an exit plan and a meeting place and that it is so practical and not based in fear.