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Fire Safety: Activities to Spark Learning!

A firehouse full of cross-curriculum activities and fire-related Web sites for Fire Prevention Week in October.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Children playing with matches appears to have been the cause of a fire that killed a 6-year-old boy in the home he shared with his mother and five siblings, authorities said Sunday.

How many times have you read or heard a news story like that one?

Each year, children set more than 100,000 fires, according to the United States Fire Administration (USFA). And children make up nearly a quarter of all fire-related deaths. About 40 percent of fires that kill children under 5 years old are set by children playing with fire.

Fire Prevention Week is a great time to review some basic fire safety facts with students across the grades, to check out some terrific fire safety Web sites, and to engage students in fire safety activities that get them talking and learning about the dangers of fire.

But, remember, fire safety is a year-round discussion! This year's Fire Prevention Week kit includes information about winter fire safety, holiday fire safety, spring storm fire safety, safety around fireworks, and more.


Each year, more than 4,500 Americans die and more than 30,000 are injured in fires. Many of those deaths and injuries could have been prevented if people had a better understanding of fire. Consider the following:

  • Fire is fast! In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It takes only minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house.
  • Fire is hot! A fire's heat alone can kill. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super hot air will scorch your lungs.
  • Fire is dark! Fire starts bright, but quickly produces smoke and complete darkness. If you wake up to a fire, you may be blinded, disoriented, and unable to find your way around the home you've lived in for years.
  • Fire is deadly! Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill.

See the National Fire Protection Association's Fast Facts About Fire for more valuable information.


In the event of a fire, remember that

  • Time is the biggest enemy and every second counts! Escape first!
  • Develop a home fire escape plan and practice it frequently.
  • In your fire escape plan, designate a meeting place outside.
  • Make sure everyone in your family knows two ways to escape from every room.
  • Practice feeling your way out with your eyes closed.
  • Never stand up in a fire, always crawl low under the smoke and try to keep your mouth covered.
  • Never return to a burning building for any reason; it may cost you your life.
  • Finally, having a working smoke detector dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.

Get more tips sheets from the National Fire Protection Association.


Listening. Read aloud the brief story The Cow That Destroyed Chicago (or "Why We Celebrate National Fire Prevention Week"). When you've finished reading the story, ask the questions below to test students' listening comprehension. (Note: For younger listeners, you might read the story in two parts.)

  • In which city did this story take place? (Chicago)
  • In which month of the year did the Great Chicago Fire happen? (October)
  • What was the O'Leary's house made of? (wood)
  • When Mrs. O'Leary went out to the barn, what did she carry with her? ( a lantern)
  • How do many people think the fire started? (They think Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern.)
  • Why did the fire spread so quickly? (Everything was very dry because it hadn't rained much.)
  • How long did it take to stop the fire? (more than 24 hours; from about 9:00 p.m. Sunday until almost midnight Monday)
  • How much of the city of Chicago was destroyed by fire? (more than 2,000 acres, or about 3-1/2 square miles)
  • What finally happened to help firefighters get the fire under control? (It started to rain.)
  • Why is Fire Prevention Week held in October? (to remember one of the most destructive fires of all time)

Community service. Older students can take responsibility for teaching younger students about fire safety. (Older elementary students might target younger students in the school; middle and high school students might target elementary students.) All students benefit! The students who create the materials learn by doing and the younger students are exposed to information that might save their lives. And younger students see the older kids as role models for community involvement. Possible projects: Among the projects older students might create are fire safety newsletters featuring fun puzzles, comic strips, coloring pages, poems and other things for kids to do or to read; fact sheets for kids to take home to their parents; or a how-to sheet for creating a home escape plan. Students might even create a fire safety Web page for their community.

Fire safety quizzes and games. Try fire safety activities and games. Or take the American Red Cross fire safety quiz. See Smokey Bear's Web site for additional activities, including a forest fire prevention quiz, a campfire word unscramble, and more fun games and activities.

Survey/graphing. Invite each student to count how many smoke detectors his/her family has in their home. Create a simple bar graph showing how many families have one, two, three, four, or five or more smoke detectors. Talk about where each smoke detector is located in the home and why the family chose to put a smoke detector there.

Coloring. For young children, print out the Fire Prevention Week Coloring Pages and duplicate.

Graph and chart reading. Use the Fire Facts sheet from your Fire Prevention Week kit (see Resources) or click here for a copy that can be printed out and duplicated for use as a learning center activity. Use the following questions to check students' comprehension of the four graphs/charts on the fact sheet. (Answers are shown in parentheses.)

  • How many fires in the home are caused each year by cooking? (101,000)
  • How often does a fire department somewhere in the United States respond of a fire? (every 16 seconds)
  • Who is more at risk of dying in a home fire -- young children ages 0-5 or adults age 65 and older? (young children)
  • What is the leading cause of home fire deaths? (smoking)
  • How many people died in home fire deaths in the United States in 1995? (3,640)
  • In 1977, what percent of homes had smoke detectors in them? (22 percent)
  • In 1995, what percent of homes had smoke detectors in them? (93 percent)

Think About It!

  • How many more home fire deaths happened in 1977 than happened in 1995? (2,225)
  • Why has the number of home fires decreased from almost 6,000 in 1977 to less than 4,000 in 1995? (Accept reasoned responses, e.g., because the number of smoke detectors in homes has increased or because people know more about fire safety today than they did years ago.)
  • Fire departments in the United States respond to about four fires every minute. Use that information to figure out the answers to these questions: How many fires do U.S. fire fighters respond to every hour? (about 240) Every day? (about 5,760) Every month? (about 172,800) Every year? (about 2,102,400)

Art. Hold a school-wide fire safety poster contest. Winning posters at each grade level might be displayed in the public library or in the windows of local grocery stores.

Writing. Invite a representative of the fire department to come into class to talk with your students. (Students might prepare questions for the firefighter in advance -- questions about fire safety and about fire fighting as a career.) Then students can use the information they gather to write a "news story" about the firefighter's visit.

Family involvement. Hold a family night in which a firefighter speaks to families about fire safety. The firefighter can lead families as they create fire escape plans for their homes. Informational packets that include fire-safety tips for parents and fun fire-safety activities for kids can be handed out. Students of all ages, but especially younger students, might want to share copies of their plans. Activity and informational resources might include Basic Fire Escape Planning.

Safety/art. Talk about fire safety hazards in the home. Make a list of hazards. Then invite students to draw a cutaway picture of a home that shows a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom. The illustration should include at least ten fire hazards for others to identify. Hazards might include a T-shirt tossed over a lamp; a lit candle near a window; a hair dryer teetering on the edge of a sink full of water; a towel close to a space heater; an adult smoking as s/he lays on the couch; a frying pan on the stove with the handle pointing outward (a small child nearby); newspapers close to the fireplace; too many electrical cords plugged into one outlet; a smoke detector hanging loosely from the ceiling; a lit cigarette in an unattended ashtray; and a lighter left on a table -- to name just a few! Once complete, students should exchange illustrations and list the fire hazards in the picture they receive.

Crack the Code. Assign a different number from 1-26 to each letter of the alphabet. (For 2nd and 3rd graders A might be 1, B might be 2, etc. For older students, the code can be mixed up or students might create their own codes.) Then use the assigned code to write out some fire safety messages in number form. For example, using the simple A=1 code, the coded message 14-5-22-5-18 16-12-1-25 23-9-20-8 13-1-20-3-8-5-19 1-14-4 12-9-6-8-20-5-18-19 would translate to NEVER PLAY WITH MATCHES AND LIGHTERS. Other codes for students to crack would translate to fire safety messages such as FIRE IS FAST!, TEST SMOKE DETECTORS ONCE A MONTH, and PRACTICE YOUR FAMILY ESCAPE PLAN.


Great Chicago Fire Web Site Rich in Language Arts
The Web Site "The Great Chicago Fire and The Web of Memory" explores the historic fire in ways that engender rich Language Arts activities.


Fire Safe Kids
This site includes interactive games and activities about fire safety.

Smokey Bear
Smokey's Web site includes fun activities for kids, Smokey's rules, pen pals, and links to other resources.

Kids' Fire Safety Tips
Scroll down the page for some fun illustrations with tips from Buzzy the Smoke Detector, Reddy the Fire Extinguisher, Squirt the Water Drop and other fire safety friends.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
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