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Saima’s Blog – Fire Emergency Preparedness

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The recent horrific tragedy in Doha, where thirteen little children lost their lives in a fire in a nursery in Qatar Mall, was a staggering reminder about the fragility of our children’s lives and how we all sometimes overlook the attention  disaster preparedness requires, not only in childcare and school facilities but also in our own homes. I myself am very guilty of this oversight.

Of course we have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, but do we have a proper home evacuation plan? Living in high-rise apartments makes this an even bigger concern. What can we do to prepare ourselves and our kids to deal with emergencies like this?

Preparing Our Families For A Fire Emergency At Home


Evacuation Plan

When a fire emergency occurs, panic sets in. Therefore, an evacuation plan really helps keep things focused and make the evacuation process efficient. Here are some basic things parents can do to prepare for a fire emergency at home:

  • Make A Fire Evacuation Floor Plan: Draw a simple picture of each room in your house. You can just draw a rectangle, and then draw in all windows, doors as well as tables, beds, and other big pieces of furniture. Then in one color, draw the shortest path out of the house from each room. For large houses, you should also map out the second fastest path in another color. 
  • Explain Evacuation Floor Plan: Make sure the children understand the floor plan and make copies and put it up in their rooms so they develop a visual familiarity with it. Additionally, make sure everyone in your household, including other caregivers, know this plan.
  • Assign A Meeting Point: Assign one gathering point outside of your home where everyone should converge once they get out of the building.
  • Allot Specific Duties To Adults: Lay down specific duties for all the adults in your household, especially if you have a baby or toddler who will need help getting out of the house. Ensure that one able-bodied adult is assigned to help each young child out of the house.
  • Call Emergency Helpline: Make your children memorize the emergency helpline numbers in your region. Stress upon them, however,that they should only call these helplines after they are out of the house and at the assigned meeting point.
  • Hold Evacuation Drills: Hold fire drills at home and focus on the following:
      1. Try to make these drills as realistic as possible. You can do this by:
        • Blocking some exits (to mimic the real deal when exits could be blocked by smoke or fire).
        • Holding the fire drills in the evening, when there is little light. Most fires occur at night, therefore holding drills in the evenings will prepare your children to deal with disorientation in the dark and teach them to be calm in those situations.
      2. Stress upon your children that they need to drop everything and follow the evacuation plan.This means not looking for their favorite toys, etc and just exiting the building once the fire drill is in effect.
      3. Make sure that your children know that once they are out of the house, they should stay out no matter what.
      4. Practice, practice, practice. The more times you practice, the more routine this will become for your children and they will know what to do if an emergency arises. Also, your timing will improve the more you practice.
  • Be Informed About Escape Tips: Some basic tips to remember, and teach your child about, in case of a fire include:
      1.  Get low, stay close to the floor, and make your escape under the smoke to the nearest exit . Smoke rises up leaving cleaner air closer to the floor.
      2. Touch doorknobs with the back of your hand to see if they are warm. If they are warm, try another escape route.
      3. Slam the door shut if smoke is starting to pour in.
      4. Close doors, as you escape, to slowdown the spread of the fire and smoke.
      5. Teach everyone to stop, drop, and roll if their clothes catch fire.
      6. Teach your kids never to hide under their beds or in the closets, if there is a fire.
Preparedness At Home
  • Make sure the escape route you have devised includes doors and windows that everyone, including children, can unlock.
  • Try to have a fire extinguisher at home or, if you live in an apartment building,  make sure your apartment floor has at least a few fire extinguishers on each floor in close proximity to your apartment.
  • Test smoke alarms once a month.
  • Replace alarm batteries once a year and replace any alarm older than 10 years.

Fire Preparedness In Childcare and Education Facilities


Fire safety should be a major consideration when picking a daycare, nursery or school for your child. Some things to ask the facilities, include:

  • Formal Fire Safety Program: Make sure that the facility you select has a solid fire safety program in place. A fire safety program should include fire prevention measure as well as an evacuation plan. In fact, ask to see a copy of the facility’s fire safety manual. Additionally, talk to your child’s caregivers/teachers to ensure that they are are knowledgeable and trained in the facility’s fire safety plan.
  • Fire Safety Inspections:  Find out how often the facility goes through fire safety inspections.
  • Fire Fighting and Detection Equipment: Make sure the premises has an adequate number of  smoke detectors and fire extinguisher in or near each classroom.
  • Accessible Exits: Ask and observe if fire exits are clearly marked and that all classrooms have a clear and short path to the exits in the building.
  • Frequent Fire Drills: Make sure that the facility holds regular fire drills.
  • CPR and First-Aid Training: Make sure the staff is trained in first aid and CPR.

This heartbreaking disaster,in Doha, is a reminder to us all about the importance of preparedness to minimize the effects of such disasters. We extend our condolences to the families of those beautiful children, and our thoughts and prayers are with the parents who have suffered this irreparable loss. 

Today, I will hold my baby boy close and lament the loss of the thirteen innocent souls who have left the world oh so soon. 



Photograph credit: Chris Martino; Flickr

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Contributed by saimaismail

Saima is the Editor-in-Chief, and co-founder of Bright Babyhood. She is a management consultant and a Columbia University alumni. She currently spends her days managing and writing for Bright Babyhood, and brainstorming ways to convince her toddler to eat. You can find her writings at www.BrightBabyhood.com.

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  • Rabab says:

    Great article you’ve covered all angles really well. I just wanted to add it is also useful to have a ‘Grab Bag’. A grab bag would have things that you absolutely need with you before you rush out of the house in case of an emergency. Items can include passports, some cash, spare keys, usb with imp files etc. This bag should be kept somewhere you can access easily and also remember cause the last you want to do is to try and recall where you kept this grab bag. This could be your handbag but you obviously would not have your passport in it, so it ideally should be another bag that you keep for emergencies.

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