Checking In With My 2011 Family Goals: At-Home Fire Drills

The following is by editor Kara Fleck.

As 2011 dawned on us last January, I set some goals for my family in the new year: to become local tourists and really get to know the area in which we live, to break out of our food rut, and to practice regular monthly home fire drills.

Today I am checking in with one of those goals, the monthly home fire drill.

The Goal: a Monthly Drill

As I said in January, we began doing monthly home fire drills last fall, but it is important to keep up this practice every month.  It isn’t pleasant to think about a fire, of course, and I don’t want to perpetuate a fear, but I also want my family to be prepared, just in case.

We actually began this practice in October, during Fire Safety Month.  I’m proud of us for continuing.  During the Winter months,  it was tempting to just skip it, but we worked at it and have kept the habit so far.

At-Home Fire Drill Goals

A few of my goals for our home fire drill:

  • To come up with two different escape routes
  • To stress that we need to get out and then stay out!
  • Learning why we need to crawl low under smoke, and then practicing our crawling
  • Checking doors for heat before opening them
  • Assigning a meeting place once outside
  • Calling 9-1-1 after we are out of the house
  • Setting off the smoke alarm so we can hear what it sounds like
  • Checking the batteries in our smoke detectors
  • Practicing our fire drill – not just talking about it, but actually doing it

Surprises and Unforeseen Challenges

Some aspects of our fire drill seem to come pretty naturally to the kids and are becoming second habit. But there are some other issues that are concerning to me.

The Fire Alarm

We hit the “test” button on our smoke detector so that the kids hear the sound of the actual alarm, even if only briefly.  I was pleasantly surprised that it did not take long at all for even my two year old to associate that sound with “fire drill.”  In fact, if someone happens to set off the smoke detectors when cooking, the kids first reaction is always to think we’re having a drill.

However, the sound of the alarm is really loud and piercing (as a smoke detector alarm should be) and there is definitely a bit of fear  in the eyes of the kids when it is tested and then a visible relief when the sound stops. I understand, as I hate the sound, too.

I don’t have confidence that hearing the sound for a  prolonged period of time, as they would in a real fire, wouldn’t led them to panic, especially in my younger two.  I suspect the sound might scare them so much they forget what steps to take.


I have been fairly impressed with how well the kids remember concepts like “stop, drop, and roll” and to touch the doors to see if they feel hot before opening them. However, this memory seems to be better collectively, with my oldest usually reminding the others what to do.  We may not all be together in a real fire situation.

I’ve also been struck by the things that they forget from month to month as we practice this.  Sometimes not everyone can remember our outside meeting place.  The nine year old does well with this, and the two year old I don’t expect to be remember every time, but I was surprised that my four year old doesn’t always remember.

Sometimes a kid will forget not to stop to put on shoes, or even that we never, ever go back inside for any reason. That they forget these things from month to month has been a wake-up call to me. Clearly, a once a year practice drill during Fire Safety Month is not enough.

Doing these monthly drills, seeing what the kids remember each time and what they forget, is showing me that it is a good thing we’re practicing.  Granted, I hope we never need to use this experience in a real life situation, but I can see the value of being prepared and fire drills are something that need to happen on a regular basis in order to stay fresh in the minds of my kids and become a habit.

Do you practice monthly home drills? Or other preparedness drills – earthquake, tornado?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. Thank you for this post! I have had it on my to-do list to be a little more prepared, and my husband drew out a map for escape routes….but that is as far as we’ve gotten. I was thinking we could do a fire drill once a year, but after reading your experiences (and I have a 12, 10, 4 and 1 year old), I think monthly is the way to go! Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

  2. Very good reminder. I saw this title and came here to share this thought with you: In addition to your concern about the shrill loudness scaring young children to death in which case they may be frozen in terror I’ve made this discovery when our alarm went off in the middle of the night a few years ago. None of my kids even woke up! It was 3:00 a.m. and scared the bejeezus out of myself and husband. When we ran to the kids room (and discovered it a false alarm in the meantime) we found them all fast asleep! How could this be, it was earpiercing?
    We asked them in the morning and none of them said they heard it.

    I asked around and some fire fighter friends of mine said this was very common thing they ran into. Wow! They suggested purchasing a ‘Voice Alarm” In the case of a fire, instead of the shrill alarm a pre-recorded, very loud message from you yells at your children to ” WAKE UP! THERE’S A FIRE!” or whatever you record.
    Apparantly children are more likely to wake up to their parents yelling at them than an alarm. Children are very sound sleepers.
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    • Very good point! I remember being a kid and having a few false alarms that my brother slept through.

      Thanks for the reminder that we still haven’t bought ladder or extinguisher for the new house yet, let alone had a fire drill since moving in last fall.
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    • A coworker of mine had the same problem – they had a false alarm in the middle of the night and neither of their 2 young girls woke up. Kind of scary.

    • Wow! I confess I had not even thought of the possibility of them not waking up during the night if it goes off. It is such a loud, shrill sound. Thanks for the tip re: a voice alarm.

      This is scary to think about, but good information to know and be aware of.
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Checking In With My 2011 Family Goals- At-Home Fire Drills

  3. Wow, I am impressed we have to do this… really you have inspired me this is on the agenda for the morning.

  4. Some other things to consider are also, make sure your kids get to meet a firefighter in full gear. It’s common for kids to hide from fire fighters because they look ‘scary’ in full gear. Most fire departments are more than willing to have a firefighter gear up for and talk to your kids and ease their fears.

    Also-check with local fire departments and see if they have a fire house (I think that’s what they are called) It’s a small scale house, they fill with smoke and teach the kids to crawl under the smoke, outside to safety.

    It’s a scary thought, because even if an older child or adult for that matter, know what to do in theory, it possible to freak out and forget what to do in an actual fire. There are sights, sounds and smells in a real fire you just can not replicate in a drill.

    It’s been a huge fear for me since my in laws house burned to the ground in the middle of the night the night after my kids spent the night with them!

    I recently had a pan catch fire as I was cooking and I was actually proud of my kids response, while they were terrified, they remained calm and followed my directions without question. So it does pay to talk to your kids and practice drills.

  5. I’m curious… I’m potentially going to be moving to a two story house. Do you all practice the rope ladder exits? I also want to/should be practicing these fire drills. It was just something that keeps falling off the list. I’m concerned about overwhelming the kids. We currently live in a ranch, so if they are in their room and their door is not hot, then they can come out in the hallway, but if it is hot, they need to come out of their windows… which is obviously a bit tricky to teach a 3 & 6 year old. Any advice on how to deal with this? In the two story, they would need to use the ladders, which is scary to me!

    Hope we never have to experience a real fire, but I’m just curious how people deal with teaching these situations.

  6. Christine says:

    I am curious about teaching the escape route too. Isn’t there something about teaching very young children to stay put until an adult comes to get them? I have a 3 and a 1 year old. Obviously, the 1 year old cannot even get out of her bed. My three year old doesn’t even come out of his bed on his own after his nap, so I figure he’ll probably need someone’s help if there were a real fire. Based on this assumption, I haven’t practiced a drill yet. Maybe I should.

    What we have done, however, is take the kids to the firehouse and have the firefighter dress up in full gear – scared the bejeebers out of my then 2 year old. We need to do it again, and again and again so they’re not afraid and go to a firefighter in case of a fire.

    I also, once my son became fascinated w/matches after his and his father’s bdays, got a fire inspector to tell me where there was a burned down house. (Or you can just drive by one after there’s a fire noted in the local paper.) Now we drive by it and my son points out the “we don’t play with matches house.” I’m not sure that the message has been appropriately generalized, but he hasn’t asked to play with matches since.

    • Christine says:

      I should have also mentioned that I think it would be ok to let the smoke detector go off for the entire fire drill to get your kids used to it. (Assuming it doesn’t notify the fire station after a certain amount of time, or make the neighbors come running like ours does – no kitchen mishap is left untold in our row of townhouses.)

  7. My 18 month old slept through our blaring fire alarm for 45 minutes, as well as firefighters in her room. It was a scary realization, even while I was happy not to deal with her and our freaked-out 4 year old at 2 in the morning. As a result of that fun night, we replaced all of our fire alarms, which were 10 years old. We haven’t started practicing fire drills, but I guess we should!

  8. Totally were just talking about the need to do this. We have done it- in our old house. But we moved, and honestly we have not even THOUGHT of making sure the kids know what to do in a fire! I can’t believe it. My man and I were on a trip last week and saw the news, a local family died in a house fire early in the morning after Easter Day. :( The survivors “couldn’t remember if they heard smoke alarms” and said they woke because the house felt hot! It was tragic, and a reminder that MY OWN kids don’t have a plan for getting out of our house at night- and they are on the 2nd floor. We are on the 3rd floor (converted attic). We NEED A PLAN!

  9. Totally were just talking about the need to do this. We have done it- in our old house. But we moved, and honestly we have not even THOUGHT of making sure the kids know what to do in a fire! I can’t believe it. My man and I were on a trip last week and saw the news, a local family died in a house fire early in the morning after Easter Day. The survivors “couldn’t remember if they heard smoke alarms” and said they woke because the house felt hot! It was tragic, and a reminder that MY OWN kids don’t have a plan for getting out of our house at night- and they are on the 2nd floor. We are on the 3rd floor (converted attic). We NEED A PLAN!
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  10. nikki gutierrez says:

    I love this posting. Thank You. I just wanted to point out also that not only should u push the button to hear the fire alarm go off & test the battery, but you also need to check the sensors bc those may not work. You can check that just by lighting a match and blowing it out and letting the smoke get to the sensor to make sure it goes off. Also to remind my 3yr old daughter where to meet in the event of a fire, i tied a bright yellow ribbon in the front yard so she sees it everyday and knows what it means

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