October is Fire Safety Month. If you have school age children you may have developed an emergency exit plan with materials from the school. This article focuses on infants and toddlers strategies but has information for all. Resources in English and Spanish are at the end. Don’t forget to change the batteries in your fire/smoke detectors!
We all know how important it is to have a Fire Safety Plan, including two ways to exit from every room in your home. But how does that plan change when there are more babies than adults? What if you are alone with 3, 4, 5, or 6 babies?
A good place to start is with prevention and preparation. Working smoke detectors on every floor of the house and inside and outside each sleeping room are essential. New smoke detectors are available that let you record a mothers voice. They have been shown to be very effective in waking children. Of course fire extinguishers and an escape plan are important too. Most local fire departments can help you make a family fire escape plan, and may even come out to your home to do a fire safety check. It is also a good idea to let the firehouse that would respond to your home know how many babies you have. That way should the worst happen they would know how many babies need to get out. Depending on where you live, you may also want to contact your EMS or ambulance / rescue squad that an emergency call to your house may involve multiple children. Planning ahead and practicing often can mean the difference between life and death.
Most experts agree that you have less than 3 minutes to exit a burning building, which may not be enough time for many trips. If at all possible, carry everyone out in one trip, which we all know is easier said than done. Here are a few ideas on how to minimize the number of trips, hopefully only one trip!
The Big Grab Method:
For co-bedded infants, who are usually snuggled together anyway, you can probably reach your arms around from either end and grab them all. They will probably wake up and be upset that they are squished against their siblings, but at least they will be safe. I know I had no problem picking up three babies with this method and I have pretty short arms.
Laundry Basket Method:
If there is a laundry basket nearby, which there most likely will be, dump out the clothes and fill it with babies. Drag or push the basket down the hall to stay below any smoke. If you are on the second floor, back yourself down the stairs sliding the basket of babies down as you go.
Blanket/Beach Towel Method:
Keep a large thick blanket or towel in the sleeping area. (Fire blankets are available for purchase commercially, but any thick blanket will do.) The goal would be to provide some insulation from any smoke or fire gases. The blanket would contain some clean breathable air and also act as a filter. For very small infants you can lay the blanket on the floor, lay all the babies next to, or on top of each other and wrap the blanket up around both sides. Hold both ends at the top, kind of like how you see “bundles“ hanging from the mouth of a stork. If there is smoke, drag the entire bundle of babies down the hall to the exit to stay below the smoke. As soon as you are in fresh air, remove the babies so they can breathe normally.
If you need to go down stairs and they are too heavy to carry (say three or four 6-12 month olds) just drag the bundle down the stairs. The kids might end up a little bumped and bruised, but they will be alive.
If you just need to get out quick and the air is clear, pick up the whole roll and out you go. The towel or blanket will keep you from dropping anyone.
Bail Out/Relay Method:
If you are on the first floor, and there is a window, open the window and start passing babies out the window. Most 0-6 month olds can’t roll or crawl away yet so they will stay where you place them. If you are alone, think of this as a relay. First you get the babies all out of the window, then yourself out, then you start moving them away from the house. Also, as soon as you open the window start screaming for help, hopefully someone will hear you and come running to help shuttle babies away from danger.
If your nursing sling or carrier is close by, you can put a baby or two in the sling and have your hands free for carrying other babies or directing another child out. Be careful with this method not to spend too much time getting babies situated in the carrier. Remember in case of a fire, you only have 3 minutes to escape, so if it takes you 5 minutes to put on and adjust your sling, you will need another method.
Commercially there are “apron-like” garments designed specifically for evacuating large numbers of babies. Many hospitals and day care centers have these. One business charges $299.00 for a carry apron (newborn or infant.)
Of course a stroller can be the quickest mode of transportation, but there are very limited circumstances where this is an option. How many of us keep a stroller near the bedroom? Also going down stairs may be hard to maneuver (and required if you are in a building with elevators). But if you are on the first floor and the stroller is close, don’t over look the obvious. Throw them in and roll as fast as you can to safety.
You can always combine methods or make up your own. The most important things is to make sure everyone gets out, and once you are all out, don’t go back in for anything.
Make sure you don’t forget the older children as well. It is easy to see how a parent would worry first about the children trapped in cribs, or who are unable to walk. So make sure you teach your older children how to escape on their own. Children as young as 3 can follow a fire escape plan they have practiced often. Fire drills are a good way to keep preschool children and toddlers involved. They also give you a chance to figure out what method will work best for you. If you are in a two-parent household, run the drill three ways: With Mom Only, With Dad Only, and with Both Parents. You might be surprised at what method works best in each scenario.
Also be sure to continue to run your practice drills as the children get older. The bigger they grow the harder they are to carry, so you might need to adjust your plan. The exit routes in your home will also change with the addition of baby gates, locked doors and toys, toys, everywhere. Continued practice is key.
If you have doors that must be opened with a key, KEEP A KEY by each door, and REPLACE it when you use it. Whether it is a child’s room or the front door, you don’t want to have to look for the key. Hang it on a hook out of the reach of the little ones. Ideally every door should open without a key, but eventually, babies become toddlers that you may have to lock them in the house to keep them from escaping into traffic without your knowledge. So, if you have any doors locked, be sure to keep a key by the door or you may have just blocked your best escape route.
If you have babies that require medical equipment, work that into your plan. I don’t mean that you should try and carry all the babies and all the equipment out in one trip. Sometimes one baby and a tangle of cords is difficult enough, let alone multiple babies and multiple cords.
If your babies are attached to monitors, oxygen, or feeding tubes, know what you can do without for a few minutes, and how to quickly disconnect to escape and call 911. When the ambulance arrives, paramedics will be able to monitor/stabilize breathing & heart rates and transport your child to a medical facility equipped with any medical equipment you could have possibly had in your home. Medical equipment can be replaced, a child can not.
We all hope we will never have to use your escape plan, but it is comforting to know that you have an Exit Strategy should you need it.