Teaching children about fire safety

So a few days ago, I had to teach the Year 8 students at my mum’s school about Fire Safety – a requirement in their Technology subject due to the fact they they would soon be doing lots of practicals in the laboratory and would work with chemicals and electricity a lot! Earlier, in the term, I had taught them First Aid in 3 seperate lessons/periods (will write on this soon). It has been exciting for me as I haven’t taught these topics in a while. Infact I took it upon myself to teach these group of children when I noticed First Aid and Fire Safety was part of their curriculum and I didn’t think anyone else could do it justice. The last time I taught fire safety to young people was to a group of youths living in supported housing somewhere on Hackney, London. At the time, their support worker thought they needed it as they were always making their fire alarms go off (intentionally and non-intentionally) and many of them never obeyed safety rules. It was an eye opener for them. I remember one of the evaluation/feedback I got from one of the young people – it went something like this “I thought this was just going to be another speech but I have learnt a lot and like the way Ike made us participate and discuss”. They particularly liked the real stories I told them- it wasn’t to scare them but to let them know fire is real and it does kill.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I used the same”tactics” and lots of pictures. I had just 45minutes to pass on this info and needed to get it right. I am used to delivering this training in at least 4hours. This particular lesson took a lot of planning and selection. Selection as per what was relevant for their level (this particular set are aged 10-12 years). So I split my lesson into 5 sections.

1. Find out what they know first
My First slide showed a building on fire and firefighters trying to put the fire out (this image on the right) and the subject, topic and teacher’s name. I purposely left this on for a few minutes and started off by asking them to write down what they knew about fire safety. Write? They were just staring at the image! One of them asked, is that how a fire really burns a building? I could see the worry on her face. I replied yes. Fire is really really bad and children tend to be more careless than adults that is why it is important for you to learn about it.

They started writing their thoughts down. After 5 minutes, I asked them individually what they had written down. The truth is they had very good ideas about fire safety. Some said fire safety was about knowing what to do and how to escape if there is a fire. Others went on to tell me about how they would use water to put fire out. Lol. Kids ehn!

2. Tell a story or show a video to help them understand the causes of fire.
So I went on to tell them a story. My story. When I was a kid, I liked reading novels and having music on while I read. I had a few unputdownable books. One night, there was no light (power) and I had this book I couldn’t put down. I wanted to get to the end of it. I lit a candle and put on my very plastic radio next to my bed. I was listening to my smooth low-volume music while reading my sweet novel. I must have slept off because the next I knew I woke up to see my radio on fire! I ran to the bathroom and got some water. Luckily the fire had just started so it went off the minute I poured water on. It was a horrible night and I have never forgotten it but then, I didn’t understand what I was saved from that night until I became an adult.

My students were in shock after hearing my story. Then I asked them what they thought was the cause(s) of fire. Telling them my story was to get them thinking and it worked. I got very good answers – from carelessness, to candles, playing with matches, not watching your cooking etc. Wow, very intelligent bunch. Next, I asked if they have heard of the fire triangle. None of them had but I told them it had 3 elements that were required for a fire to start. The first answer I got was air. I changed it to oxygen. Then one of them said wood. I changed this to fuel and explained a bit more and they were able to give me more examples of fuel – I had to caution them not to think fuel meant just petrol. Then they thought really hard about the last element and many said fire. I told them the last element was Heat and this could be fire from the cooker or candle and it could also be overheating from faulty electrical equipments, solar rays, hot ash etc. Then I told them that to prevent the elements from causing a fire, we had to get rid of one of the elements. And that is what extinguishers do. Then I said we would discuss more about it later.

3. Preventing fires.
Then I told them another story. The Lakanar House fire (in the UK) due to faulty TV set and a story I read recently of a family of 7/8 in Lagos who died in a fire when they forgot a candle on a wooden table and went to bed. Then I went on to how they can help prevent fires. My brilliant bunch again thrilled me with their answers. I added more like housekeeping, their parents can make sure maintenance checks are done on electrical wiring and equipments and reminded them not to touch candles – they had 2 stories to help them stay away from candles anyway.

4. Evacuating when there is a fire
Now what would you do if this room was on fire and there is no way out? I asked my brilliant bunch. I will jump out of the window one said. The other said she would run through the fire – she will rather get a little burnt than die in the fire. I will use the fire extinguisher another one said. Then I jokingly said well if the window is the only option I would go that way too. The truth is I meant it. As much as the fire pros would say stay put till you get rescued I know I won’t stay put. The smoke will get to you before the fire does. So I explained the dangers of smoke inhalation and the importance of not trying to fight the fire if they haven’t been taught how to use extinguishers. We have 3 exits on their floor so I asked which they would use if there was a fire. They all pointed to the nearest one and I asked why, they all said because it was the nearest to them. I then asked “what if the fire is at that exit which would you use?” – they were right again and pointed to the next nearest. So I concluded by telling them they had to use the nearest safest exit.

5. Fire extinguishers – Let them know that there are various kinds.
Then I talked about fire extinguishers. One of them had earlier said he would use water to quench fire so I reminded him about his comment and told him he was right and wrong. Right because he would use it for fires from wood, paper and similar materials. Wrong because water and electricity or oils are not friends. He quickly got the message. So I asked if they remembered the elements of the fire triangle. They did. Then I told them extinguishers work to remove one of the elements and that we have different kinds of extinguishers so I mentioned the different kinds. One of them quickly said, yeah so the water extinguisher removes the heat and carbon dioxide removes the oxygen? I was impressed! So I went on to tell them the different kinds and the kind of fires we could use them on. Again, my smart bunch decided they would just stick with the powder extinguisher so they don’t get confused lol.

By the end of the lesson, I asked many questions about what they had just learnt and I got lots of fantastic answers. I could see that many of them were thinking outside the box – they even told me things I never mentioned. To say the least, I was too happy. I have never spoken about fire safety to anyone that young.

What did I learn that day?
I have always known that with children, if you give them the chance to explore and think you would realise they know more than we give them credit for. Yes I know but till you get to experience it everyday, you really don’t appreciate their brain lol. With a little push, a little hint, a little clue, they can come up with answers and more questions. We shouldn’t get scared of teaching children about fire and protecting themselves.

Do you have any other ideas on how to teach children about fire safety? Then please leave a comment or send me a message!

#BeHSEWise