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As a babysitter, you're in charge of the children that you're looking after. That includes in case of an emergency like a fire.
What kind of fire safety tips should babysitters know? When you first arrive at a babysitting job, ask the parents for their fire safety plan and the location of extinguishers and fire escapes. You'll also need to know how to minimize the risk of a fire occurring, how to keep children and yourself safe, and what steps to take if a fire gets out of control.
By the time you're done reading this article, you should have a good idea of how to prepare yourself for a fire emergency and how to handle the situation if it ever happens to you while babysitting.
There's some basic preparation that you should do before parents leave you alone to babysit.
Write down all of the emergency phone numbers you might need.
In most cases, fire, ambulance, and police are all reachable through one important number such as 911. (000 in Australia or 999 in the UK.) The global emergency number is 112. If you dial this, it will usually redirect you to whatever your local emergency number is.
You'll also want to have a number where the parents can be reached so that you can let them know immediately if something happens.
It's also important to have the full address of the home you're babysitting at so you can tell emergency responders where to come.
Download our parent details form it's perfect for recording all the emergency numbers you may need.
There's no point reinventing the wheel. Most families already have a fire escape plan and can give you instructions such as what exits to take, where to meet outside, and other details.
If you're babysitting, you'll normally want a house tour anyway so that you know where everything is located.
Besides just knowing where diapers and toys are kept, be mindful during your house tour to see where all the doors and windows are located. It's a good idea to make sure you're able to open the windows to be sure you can get out if needed.
Some windows can be tricky to open, and you never know what room you might end up in during a fire. Wherever possible, you should try to find two different ways out of each room. That's particularly true for bedrooms.
It might feel a bit out of place to ask parents if you can check their smoke alarms. Personally, I wouldn't because you risk offending parents and sending the message that you don't trust they're on top of basic home safety. But during your home tour, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for smoke detectors. Usually, you can catch a light blinking on any smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors every 30 seconds or so to know they're working correctly.
If you don't have your own mobile phone, you'll want to have one of the parents leave their own phone for you to use in case of emergencies. Alternatively, they might give you information about a trustworthy neighbor who you can visit to use their phone.
What if you need to leave the house because of a fire and it's pouring rain or the middle of winter?
It's already not a pleasant experience dealing with a child during an emergency. Adding below-freezing temperatures to the situation doesn't help.
You normally won't have a chance to get a child fully dressed before you exit the house. You'll be lucky just to get their shoes on. So they'll be totally unprotected from the elements and could be at risk of things like hypothermia depending on the temperature outside.
Ask parents if there's an unlocked shelter that you can use outside in case of an emergency, such as a shed or detached garage. Alternatively, have a neighbor nearby that you can go to.
This is particularly important if you're babysitting for a family that lives in a rural area and firefighters will take more than a couple of minutes to arrive.
Now you've got a fire escape plan and know what to do in case of an emergency.
It's just as important to be sure you're taking steps to minimize the chance of a fire in the first place!
Follow these guidelines to lower the chance of a fire while babysitting.
This is just a fundamental rule of babysitting.
There are plenty of other reasons not to leave kids alone while you're supposed to be watching them. Besides potentially eating something they shouldn't or hurting themselves, you can add the fact that it's a fire hazard to your list of reasons not to leave children unsupervised.
Even if you're babysitting late and you've put the children to bed, it's a good idea to continue checking on them regularly.
Ask parents where they store matches or lighters to verify that they're either kept up high where kids can't reach them or in a locked drawer. Parents might keep matches away, but overlook some items like barbeque lighters that might be just kept in a drawer by the back door.
Nowadays most parents wouldn't want you smoking inside their home anyway. Even if the parents themselves are smokers, they likely go outside to smoke.
You don't want to leave kids alone while you step outside for a smoke, even for a minute or two. The cigarette itself poses a fire risk if you don't extinguish it properly. Plus you'll be leaving the children improperly supervised.
If you smoke then there will also be a lighter that kids could easily find if they go through your bag.
Can't go a full babysitting shift without smoking? Try a nicotine patch or gum instead to get you through.
After parents leave, take the children with you and do a quick sweep of the home to be sure that any appliances that pose a fire risk are turned off.
Most of them are located in the kitchen. Check things like the stove, coffee makers, kettles, or sandwich makers to be sure they're turned off. Avoid placing any papers or other flammable materials near the stove or hot surfaces.
When appliances aren't in use, roll up their cords so that kids can't pull them down off the counter.
You might also want to check the bathroom for things like hot curling irons that may have accidentally been left on. Not only are these appliances a fire hazard, but they could burn kids as well. Be sure any electrical cords are kept away from sinks and water.
I can't think of many reasons why babysitters would be lighting candles anyway. You don't exactly need mood lighting when you're babysitting!
Candles and oil lamps are just too big of a risk when children are running around and could potentially knock them over.
Unless you experience a prolonged power outage while babysitting, there's no need to break out the candles. Even if the electricity does go out, it's safer to use flashlights instead.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that 25,000 fires each year are started by space heaters. Thousands of people visit the emergency room from injuries related to space heaters, and hundreds of people die every year as a result of using them .
Avoid using space heaters except where absolutely necessary, such as if you're babysitting for a family whose furnace has broken.
If you absolutely need to use a space heater, make sure to keep it at least 1 meter (3 feet) from furniture, beds, curtains, or any other flammable material.
Have kids stay clear of any sources of heat or potential fire like stoves, lamps, or heaters.
An electric lamp doesn't seem like a fire hazard, but if it falls over, a hot light bulb could be enough to ignite carpet or other fabrics.
Many fire hazards also present a burn risk to kids if they come into contact with them.
Only cook if you have permission to do so from parents you're babysitting for.
If you do cook, you'll need to pay constant attention both to your cooking and also the children that you're watching. Just like with kids, looking away from the stove for a minute or two is enough for a pot of water to start boiling over or a fire to start.
When cooking on the stovetop, keep pot handles turned away so that children can't pull them down or accidentally knock them when walking past.
If a fire gets out of control, try smothering it with a metal or glass lid. Avoid throwing water on to any kind of oil or grease fire, as it will just splash the flammable material around.
Every kitchen should have a small fire extinguisher. Check with parents before they leave to see if they've got one and where it's located. Normally they're kept under the sink.
If you're using the microwave, take care to not place any dangerous materials inside such as aluminum foil or styrofoam.
If you're watching a baby and cooking, it's probably best to put them in a playpen. Especially if you're going to have hot pots or drinks in your hand.
If a fire or burn does happen while you're babysitting, here are some proactive things you can do to curb the situation and prevent it from getting any worse.
Fire spreads really fast. The quicker you can react to a potential fire, the more likely you'll be able to stop it before it gets out of hand. So don't delay!
We're all taught as children to stop, drop, cover our face, and roll, in case our clothes ever catch on fire.
In the heat of the moment, it's very easy to panic and forget though.
If a child you're babysitting ever has their clothing catch on fire, encourage them to stop, drop, and roll. Then try to smother out the flames with something like a towel or blanket.
If they panic and run around, it will only fan the flames and provide more oxygen, accelerating the fire.
If a child gets a minor burn, such as touching a hot pan or stove, you can cool the burn down with cold water.
Running cold water over a burn for 10 to 15 minutes will help cool it down and prevent further damage.
Don't run water over a burn if it has already started to blister, or begins to blister as you're running cold water over it. In case of blistered skin, charring, or completely white skin, you'll want to call for emergency help right away.
Children don't know to check and make sure something isn't too hot before they put it in their mouth. If a trusted adult is giving it to them, they just assume that it's okay!
Make sure that you test any hot liquids or foods that you're giving to kids to be certain they're safe. You can do this by touching the food with a clean finger, or trying a bite yourself. If you're finding you need to blow on the food or drink to cool it down before you put it into your mouth, then you need to wait a few minutes for it to cool down before giving it to a child.
Babies are especially sensitive and you should test heated milk or formula by putting a few drops on your wrist. It should feel room temperature or a little warm, but not too hot.
In case of a fire or if you smell gas in the home, don't turn on any light switches.
The electricity could produce a spark that could cause a fire or even an explosion.
On rare occasions, you won't discover a fire until it's too late. It could be the result of an electrical short or something else that isn't your fault or something that you could avoid.
If you smell smoke, see flames, or hear the smoke alarm go off, it's time to get out of the house.
Don't waste time dressing the children. If it's cold outside, just wrap them up in a blanket.
If the house is starting to fill with smoke, you will want to crouch down or even crawl to stay under the smoke. Hot air and smoke rise, so air closer to the floor is safer to breathe.
Before opening a door, feel it first. You don't know if it will be hot from a fire on the other side.
Touch the door or the metal doorknob briefly to see if it's hot. If so, don't open the door. Instead, find an alternate exit to use.
If you're babysitting in an apartment building and there's a fire, never use the elevator. Always use the stairs.
Get a safe distance away from the home and make sure everyone is okay.
Call an emergency number for help. Tell them what the situation is, and give them your address. As well as any other details, like if anybody is still inside the building. Stay on the phone until the 911 operator tells you to hang up.
Don't go back into the house for any reason such as to retrieve family pets or important personal belongings.
After you've phoned the fire department, call the parents you're babysitting for to let them know that they need to come home right away.
If you're trapped in a room and there's no getting past the fire, close the door and seal around it as best as you can.
Use a cloth or towel and wedge it under the door to stop smoke from coming into the room. If you have access to water in the room you're in, getting the cloth wet first will help as well.
Fire safety is mostly about preparedness and prevention.
If you don't have a fire safety plan, you might panic when the situation arises. That's why it's critical to have the basics like fire escapes, where to meet outside, and where fire extinguishers are located all mapped out.
In the majority of cases, serious fires can be prevented by constant supervision and taking the right precautions. But sometimes a fire can spring up that's totally out of your control. In that case, you need to know how to safely exit the building and call for help.
Want to learn some more babysitting safety tips? Check out my article: How to Be a Safe Babysitter.
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