Use this month to make your home a safer place

By JUDY LYDEN
Scripps Howard News Service
03-JUN-04

June is Home Safety Month, and this summer, the Home Safety Council is joining Nick Jr. magazine, Lowe's, Kidde (a manufacturer of fire and safety products) and the American Red Cross in trying to make homes safer.

This is a marvelous, multidimensional, gotcha-any-way-you-look campaign to make people stop and think about preventing possible injury or death in the home. There is a pledge families can take to make their home safe(www.pledgetoprepare.com).

Visit www.homesafetycouncil.org online to download a tailored checklist for your house. Every house has special needs.

I reared my family in a house deeded in 1807 by James Madison. My biggest concern there? Fire. In a very old house, noise and odors don't travel. Smoke detectors had to be installed in places where they could be heard on every floor.

When the smoke alarm began to go off every time the bathroom door opened, we replaced it. Batteries are cheap. Smoke detectors are little more expensive, but a life is not replaceable. Fire safety experts say that a working smoke alarm cuts the chances of someone dying in a home fire by nearly half, yet only 20 percent of Americans maintain their smoke alarms properly.

My fire escape plan is easy because all bedrooms have a roof landing beneath. The stairwell is open and is a straight shot to the front door. We asked our children every few months, "How would you get out if there was a fire? Can you open your window? Do you remember to touch the back of your door with the back of your hand to test for heat? How would you crawl out of the house?"

According to a new study by the HSC, 90 percent of fatalities from fires happen at home. The study also found that while fires are one of the leading causes of home injury-related death, only half of American homes report discussing a home fire escape plan.

Families should create a fire escape plan with two exits from every room, and practice it at least twice each year. Holding a fire drill at night is especially important; many home fires happen while families are asleep.

While you're at it, ask kids about general disasters and what items they would need to have to get by. My school principal insisted during an earthquake scare that her children keep a flashlight and shoes by their beds. "If the house is covered in broken glass, and a child has shoes and light, (he'll) be fine," she said.

Find a family depot for supplies your family will need to vacate your home quickly. Keep supplies such as a blanket, flashlights, a day's worth of canned food, a jug of water and extra batteries near your medicine place. If you vacate your home, necessary medicines should go with you.

Does anyone in your household know first aid, CPR and how to do the Heimlich maneuver? They should. It could save your life. Contact a fire department or the Red Cross to ask about classes.

Be safe this summer, and make a pledge to safety.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)