One thing that I have had a hard time getting used to is that here in Canada houses are built of wooden frames and all walls are made of sheet rock. I can quite literally punch the wall and break a hole into it. Good luck trying that in the typical block-and-concrete Mexican house.
Something that comes hand in hand with the choice of such building materials is the risk of fire. With this in mind my friend Angelina organized a fire safety talk, presented to us by a lovely member of our local Fire Department.
First, she showed us a video in which they recreated a fire as it would likely occur in the normal, furnished (obviously vacant) home. It was very impressive and rather shocking to see how fast the fire expanded, smoke soon filling the entire room. The scariest part was when, at only over two minutes of the fire beginning, the Fire Chief turned to us parents and said “At this point, not even us as firefighters can come in to save you.” I’m certain my jaw hit the floor.
Two and a half minutes? Is that all the time a family has before they’re on their own? That isn’t much time at all, and hence the Firefighter’s constant insistence at the need of having a plan.
I thought quickly about my house and potential escape routes; Anna’s room window is directly above our front lawn, and I’m sure that she’d be fine making a jump out of it, were it ever necessary. The thing is, does she know she’s supposed to jump and escape without waiting for us? She doesn’t, because we had never discussed it with her before.
The kids learned many safety tips, including Stop-Drop-Roll, which is basically what you should do if your clothes or hair are on fire. Stop running, Drop to the ground, and Roll around until the flames are consumed.
A memory popped into my head: A few months ago Stephen came upstairs after working in his office, in our basement. A few minutes later our smoke detectors went off like crazy, and Stephen ran downstairs to find the basement filled with smoke, a lit cherry from his last cigarette had ignited the whole ashtray and had expanded to a few papers on his desk. We got everything under control but it still took some time to clear the air enough for the smoke detectors to stop wailing. This happened during the night; Anna did not wake up at all in the 10-13 minutes that the smoke alarms were going off.
I talked to the Fire Chief about this incident, and she said that it’s actually quite common in children: they’re simply not used to the sound, they don’t register it as a sign of alarm. It’s almost as if their brain doesn’t recognize the meaning of the sound, and so it doesn’t send alarm signals for the body to wake up. She recommended we randomly provoke the alarms to go off, and if she doesn’t react we should go in her room, use our ‘big parent voice’ and wake her up for a drill. Doing this sporadically will help her brain make the association of smoke alarm sound= wake up, get out.
Other safety precautions include not opening the door to your room if the doorknob is hot, because this means that the fire is close and the only thing protecting you is the door. Place a towel, bed sheet or any kind of fabric to cover the gap under the door to prevent smoke from coming in. If you are able to get out of your room but the house is filled in smoke, drop to the ground and crawl to the nearest exit.
Have a plan: Teach your children different escape routes, what to do, organize a strategy with your spouse (especially if there’s babies and toddlers who will need help), and define a meeting place, which is very important because you’ll be able to tell at a glance who is out and safe already.
We have a lot of practicing left to do!