When Firefighters Go Bump in the Night

Imagine your child alone and on their own in a haunted house. Not the tame, kidsy kind with paper streamers, fake spider webs, and a tub of spaghetti that is supposed to be intestines. I mean the real, actually scary commercial kind that prop up in abandoned malls each year around Halloween. It’s dark. They can barely see their hands if they hold them up in front of their face. They’re disoriented. They’re scared. Terrified, would be more accurate. Nerves are running wild. Then, out of nowhere, a monster emerges from the void, frightening them to wits end. Do you have that mental picture in mind? Good. Now tell me, do they: A) Cower in the corner, B) Run and hide, or C) Extend their arms and grasp for the monster?

This may sound like an absurd mental image to bring to mind, yet this is precisely the type of scenario many children find themselves in during a house fire. They are often alone. It’s pitch black from both the darkness of the night and the thickness of the smoke. They can hardly see a foot in front of their face. They’re groggy from their sleep and generally disoriented, not knowing exactly what’s going on. Then suddenly, a figure emerges into the room. It is carrying an axe, looks like a space monster, and is breathing like Darth Vader. If you’re an already frightened young child, what would you do with this sensory input? Unless you’ve been prepared ahead of time, there’s a decent chance you might withdraw in fear. Because of this, during a house fire many children will hide from the very people who are there to save them.

A full-suited firefighter can look scary to a young child. Throw in the fear and anxiety that comes with being caught in a genuine house fire, and this tendency towards a fearful response can be even worse. Which is why it’s important that parents and teachers do all they can to alleviate this potentially deadly fear.

There are several different ways to do this. One of the most effective methods is in person. Children need to see a firefighter dressed in full uniform while in a safe setting, and most local fire stations are happy to oblige. They often host field trips for local schoolchildren, and sometimes will set aside certain dates for safety education. (Contact your local station to ask about safety education programs or to see if you and your children can tag along on the next school-group presentation they conduct.) These presentations will include an explanation of all the different apparatus that firefighters wear when fighting a fire. Step by step, they’ll dress up a firefighter (or another caregiver that the children know) with all the gear, so that kids become comfortable with the knowledge that inside all of that protective cover is a normal person who wants to help.

A second method, and just as important for ensuring the message sinks in, is to expose your kids to firefighters through books and other resources. You can find a free printable discussion picture of a firefighter dressed in full uniform at www.keepyourchildsafe.org/safetyposters.asp ***check link. The same site also has an assortment of books and coloring sheets on firefighters and fire safety, all available for free online and in a printable format. Your local library is another great source for books and videos on fire safety.

Finally, talk with your kids. Acknowledge that firefighters can look a little scary when all dressed up. But explain that underneath that suit – which is there to protect them from the fire – is a nice person who wants to rescue you and bring you to safety where you can reunite with mom and dad. Explain that this suit represents a ticket to safety and a way to reunite with their parents. So no matter how scary it might be, they should go to them, not hide from them. Use this opportunity to discuss any other particular concerns your child might have.

If your child is the type of kid who hates it when people put on masks or costumes and is unsure about things even when they are shown the person underneath, you’ll want to work extra on this topic. It may seem like a remote threat, but keep in mind that with around 600 to 900 child fire deaths each year, letting a fear of firefighters go unchecked is far more likely to kill your child than any sex-offenders living in the neighborhood.

With a little bit of time devoted to this and other fire safety issues, your child can be protected from one of the most prominent dangers out there. Plus, if done correctly, this is one of those safety topics that can be a lot of fun to learn about. After all, what kid doesn’t like big shiny trucks and cool space-man looking suits? Let’s just make sure they know the kind, helpful person that resides inside that suit.

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