It is January 16, 2015, this is your 22 wedding anniversary and the incredible woman that you proposed to all those years ago still loves you. Through all of your faults, your failings, the deployments overseas into hostile combat zones, she stood by you. As a small token of your devotion to her, you planned a quiet dinner at her favorite restaurant followed by her favorite musical in downtown Philadelphia. Everything was planned perfectly and (as long as Mr. Murphy doesn’t come along for the ride) should all go like clockwork.
You spent weeks planning this event for a single evening with your wife. You made sure the kids had what they needed to have some fun while you were out. You called Osteria’s for reservations, bought tickets at the Philadelphia Theater for “Les Misérables”, made sure the car was filled with fuel, and you bought some spring flowers, because she loves daisies. You took weeks to do this because you care about your wife.
Two weeks after your anniversary, your life changed. The world you knew and remembered was forever altered and destroyed in the blink of an eye. Those that you loved beyond life itself were now shadows of their former selves trying to understand the magnitude of their grief and the losses that caused it. No longer did the laughter of your children echo down the halls as they played in the bedrooms and teased one another. The pets, no longer climbed on the furniture only to be told “get down” for the hundredth time. The phone will no longer ring on one of two existing 1970’s era rotary dial phones that actually still worked. In fact, nothing about your life will ever be the same from now on.
The fire department chief told you that the fire started in the attic. Some faulty electrical wiring from when the house was built in 1974 had finally failed and shorted. This caused the new insulation that you had installed last fall to ignite over time and with the stored boxes in the attic became a tinder box ripe for burning. The possessions stored were a mix of decorations for each holiday season. Some relics from your past, extra books that have more meaning than use to you, and several painting and prints that you liked and could not bear to let go of just yet. In essence, pretty much everything that qualified what you called a life.
In 2007 you and your wife bought your first house. Your children were still young, but it gave them a place to grow, to call home. The yard was filled with areas to explore, grass to play on and room for the pets to chase and play fetch. With the joys of owning a home, you also knew there would be great responsibilities that came with the mortgage. Annual and seasonal maintenance, mortgage payments, insurances were the least among them. Safety also came to mind. The safety of your family, your neighbors and friends, somehow it seemed appropriate, the safety of the house itself. In its planning, you looked at insurance policies and warranties for various things. You did not live in the flood zone, so flood insurance seemed a bit excessive. You had the standard policies that all agents recommended. So, what was missing?
Did I have a “Family Action Evacuation Plan”?
There it was, as plain as the nose on your face. You had everything but the family evacuation plan. The following day, you went down to the local fire company and asked where you could get information about making an evacuation plan. The chief gave sound advice and some pamphlets and told you that the Red Cross was also a good source of information. So you then went to your local Red Cross Chapter and asked the same questions. True to his word, the chief was right. You got great information on how to make an evacuation plan that would serve you well should it ever be needed.
That evening, you sat down with your family to discuss what we should do in the event of any emergency. Where should we go, who we should call, what should be done until everyone was safe. You shared the information you were given and asked everyone to give some input as to the FAP that you were building.
The American Red Cross made some recommendations:
- If a fire occurs in your home, GET OUT, STAY OUT and CALL for help.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
- Test smoke alarms once a month, if they’re not working, change the batteries.
- Talk with all household members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan twice a year.(Cross)
Emergency action plans for your family should include your animals
Our pets enrich our lives in more ways than we can count. They are members of the family. In turn, they depend on us for their safety and well-being. The best way to ensure the safety of your entire family is to be prepared with a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan includes your pets. Being prepared can help save lives. (Cross)
So in building the Family Action Plan, you laid out the frame work of what was needed, what responsibilities each person had, where would we all meet if separated, and who to contact in the event of an emergency. Each family member had an assigned role as they were now old enough to grasp the severity of things and capable of helping. The children would locate the pets and evacuate from the house, mom would locate the children and evacuate the house, dad, would locate everyone and evacuate the house. If the fire was small, dad would combat it while everyone else got out. Everyone would call 911 unless otherwise directed.
For the house itself, you purchased several fire extinguishers from the Kidde Company. (United Technologies, 2015) These included one for the kitchen and cooking fires, one for the house and general fires, and one for the garage for chemical fires. You also purchased a dozen up to date smoke detectors and installed them throughout the house the attic, the bedrooms, the basement, and the garage to get better coverage throughout the house.
After finishing the framework and installing the proper equipment in the house, the day came to test what we had built. Simulation Day was here. Our neighbors, being the good sports and for the promise of a BBQ afterwards, were willing to help us with the testing. It also gave them incentive to decide if this was a good thing for them to consider. We informed all of our neighbors that we were running a drill, but also contacted the local fire company and police just in case someone heard us yelling fire and called them. The test went flawlessly as tests often do, we evacuated the house in under 2 minutes, all pets and people accounted for, everyone was happy. You prayed that the true test would never happen.
February 1st came and seemingly went with no fanfare it was just another cold day among the typical winter-scape of Pennsylvania. It was a long day gone and a cold night coming. Around 2 A.M. you awoke, something was wrong but you weren’t sure about what it was. The room was dark, but it felt warmer than it should have for a cold February night. Then the second warning came; another screaming banshee assaulting my senses saying, “Listen to me”. You realized it was the detectors going off and the warmth was not a summer’s night, but a fire somewhere in the house. Opening the bedroom door, and hearing nothing close by, you knew the attic must be the problem. You grabbed the rope and pulled the ladder down far enough to see the glowing light in the darkness. You knew that you couldn’t combat it; and started screaming and calling for your family to get out. Going from door to door in the house you gathered your wife, a cat, and the dog. Getting to your daughters rooms, they were empty. Fear wasn’t your first thought, hysteria was more like it. You didn’t know where they were and could see the flames breaking through the ceiling in spots and now time was more precious than it had ever been. Sending your wife out the sliding door you raced through the house yelling for the children. The attic was now in the living room and the flames were spreading faster than you could move. Reaching the stairway, you could hear screaming from the basement and fearing the worst pushed into the darkness. The upper floor and attic were now lost, nothing to do but escape through the garage or basement door. Outside you could see the light from the flames; you could hear the sirens and the neighbors yelling. There in the neighbor’s care you found your children and the other two cats in the neighbor’s yard just as the plan called for. Everyone was now out of the house as the decades of your lives roared in the light.
In the days, weeks, years that passed, I was able to reflect on the thought of the FAP. It is hard to describe the benefits of any action when the end result is that you are alive and all that you love is too. Without the FAP it may not have been that way. What took 4-6 months to create and build was destroyed in mere minutes. An entire world removed save for the memories it created over time.
I am being asked what benefits are there in a Family Action Plan.
- It gave a family clear direction in their responsibilities during an emergency
- It gave tangible meaning to why these things were to be done
- It gave purpose for the actions that led to the installation of safety equipment
- It removed fear and instilled confidence that this will work
- It saved the lives of 5 people and 4 pets
Yes, there is benefit in the Family Action Plan (FAP); we are living proof of that benefit.
Cross, A. R. (n.d.). Home Fire Safety. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire
United Technologies, K. (2015, March 22). Home Safety. Retrieved from Kidde: http://www.kidde.com/home-safety/en/us/products/fire-safety/fire-extinguishers/