The following post is by Jen Leary, Founder of Red Paw Emergency Relief Team
I am a bit of a preparedness freak, or maybe even a bit of buzz kill, depending on who you ask! I’m the one who goes and gives out In Case of Fire window clings and first aid kits as birthday presents and stocking stuffers, the one who goes out to a movie with friends and instructs them on where the emergency exits are, informs them which one we’ll be using if need be, and will only allow them to sit in the aisle seats, closer to the emergency exits!
My friends and family know this about me and accept it or at the very least humor me! Let’s take my sister for example; she travels for work quite a bit, so I frequently remind her about preparedness tips for travel. For example, when she’s driving, I always remind her to check her “go bag” and first aid kit that I know she has in her trunk because I’m her sister and bought them for her!:) I remind her to check that nothing has expired or gone bad. I remind her to charge her back up phone battery and to keep her phone charging while driving. I remind her to keep a blanket and extra set of clothing and shoes in the trunk, especially while driving in the winter. When she is flying, I remind her (although she may use another word!) to book her flight early enough in advance that she can request to sit in the emergency exit aisle on the plane. On the one hand, yes, in the event of a fire you’ll have to stay on the plane and help people exit, but, on the other, you won’t be trapped in the middle of the plane, surrounded by combustibles with no way out!
Also, I make sure to tell all of my family members that when they book a hotel to do it far enough in advance that they can request to stay below the 7th floor of the hotel. Fire department ladder trucks can’t reach any higher than the 7th floor! Also, never stay on the smoking floor of a hotel; why would you put yourself in added risk by sleeping with an ignition source and flammables during your stay? And remember to always count the number of doors from your hotel room to the emergency exits on your floor; if there is a fire and you need to evacuate but can’t see due to smoke, you’ll know how many doors there are from your room to safety. And of course, keep your travel “go-kit” with all of your important papers and things on the night stand ready to go in an emergency!
Another thing I like to do is a quick preparedness check when I’m at a friend’s home. They don’t even think twice anymore when I start poking around closets for their pet preparedness kits and cat carriers, or when I start unplugging the lamps they are not using or the phone charger that is plugged in with no phone attached. These things use electricity even when they are not on and electricity can cause fires!
I also like to look around and make sure they have working smoke alarms on every floor, and scold them if they do not. Then, while pretending to get myself something to drink, I’ll take a look on their fridge to see if there is a list of emergency numbers, then I might check out the view from a window trying to see if they have bars on them that aren’t quick release or locks on their doors that only open with a key. If they do, my head starts to spin around!! Of course, it’s all out of love and concern but this might account for why my dinner party invitations have started to dwindle!
To be fair, I do this in my own home too, but times ten! When we’re cooking dinner, first, before I use the oven or stove top, I’ll take a quick peek to make sure there are no towels (or cats or dogs) in close proximity to the stove and that all pot handles are turned in. Everything, and I mean everything, that is non-essential is unplugged. A coffee-maker plugged in overnight with a timer is essential! The washer, the dryer, the microwave, the hair dryer, fans, chargers, printers, computers, etc…they only get plugged in while in use and they are never left plugged in unsupervised. Why tempt fate! We are also not allowed to use extension cords in our home, which, if you’ve ever lived in a house in South Philly, is no easy task! Electrical sockets are few and far between. We have several power strips with surge protectors that we plug in and use when needed and then we unplug them when they are not in use. And, there are cat carriers in every room of the house and dog leashes at both front and back doors!
Remember when I said I’m a bit of a preparedness freak? Here is the freak part. Full disclosure: we live in a two-story row house but we sleep on the first floor. I could lie and say that since we run Red Paw out of our house that it has to be this way. And that we use the rooms upstairs as our emergency shelter rooms for our displaced cats, which is true, and that there have been several occasions where the “bedroom,” the “office,” and the middle room have all been occupied by Red Paw guests. Which again, is true. And that as you can imagine, this leaves very little room for us, let alone for our own animals, so, for the sake of Red Paw, we sleep downstairs…that would be a lie and everyone would call me out on it anyway! We sleep downstairs because there are two accessible exits and so that we and our pets can escape easily, just in case of fire.
An effective family fire escape plan has to identify two ways out. We had an escape ladder in our 2nd floor bedroom closet and we bought harnesses for the dogs and talked about a plan for the cats, which would be to use pillow cases, but the reality of the situation is, on a good day, with no fire, no time limit, no dark smoke, no loud noises and no fire, getting down an escape ladder is iffy, at best, and getting two dogs and five cats into harnesses and pillow cases and then getting them down an escape ladder with you is pretty much impossible! So, I did what I had to do; I moved our bed and our go kits downstairs. We have a back door into the yard, and of course, a front door leading outside. Now, we have two ways out! Is it crazy? Maybe. But I don’t care. I know my family will be able to get out in the middle of the night if there is a fire in our home. We have working smoke alarms on every floor. Our go-kits and our pets ready to go. We keep all doors to bedrooms and the basement closed and we practice our fire escape plan with the entire family, yes, including our pets. You’d be surprised how quickly they catch on after you test the smoke alarm if you usher them outside and give them a treat!
Yes, it’s Preparedness Month, but as I like to say, “preparedness never takes a day off” or “preparedness doesn’t take holidays,” so in our household every day is preparedness day and every month is preparedness month!!
For more info on Fire Safety Information and Pet Preparedness go to our website at redpawemergencyreliefteam.org/fire-safety.