Fire Safety & Water Safety: Can’t Schools Teach Both?

Teach-kids-fire-and-water-safetyMy daughter came home from school yesterday full of news from the fire safety assembly. Every year there is an assembly that coincides with Fire Prevention Week, established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. What really impressed me were the messages communicated to the children. The firefighters told the children what they most wanted to know:

  • Your dog and cat will get out of the house on their own, before you, so don’t worry about them, and if you have a fish, the water will keep them safe until the firefighters rescue them;
  • Check your bedroom door for heat, if it’s hot, stuff a blanket under the door and then open the window, throw something heavy through the screen and call for help;
  • Keep all your stuffed animals and pillows in your room and throw them at the firefighters to get their attention if they don’t hear you over the sirens, and don’t worry, you have time, it takes an hour for a door to burn down.

Why were these messages so effective? Someone really listened to children and told them what to do to stay safe, but within the context of what really concerns children. I can tell you from the frantic pleas of my own children to chase down the dog and cat and get them to the basement when the tornado siren goes in my town, pets and stuffed animals/favorite toys are THE most important thing to a child during a crisis, so giving them safety information in the context of what matters most to them is extremely effective.

What also struck me, being the water safety mom, is that every school child in the U.S. is taught fire safety in school, starting in preschool, but we don’t teach water safety. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 308 children under age 15 died of unintentional fire and burns in 2010, yet 727 died from unintentional drowning. More than double the number of children drown than die from fire, but we aren’t teaching water safety in the schools. It’s worse if you add in the 15-24 age group, where drowning claims a staggering 656 lives but fire isn’t even mentioned in the ‘top 10’ list of causes of death.

Does this concern you? It concerns me but this can only change with your help.

Every year May 15 is International Water Safety Day. I need each of you to work to add a water safety assembly into your school or preschool curriculum. Now is the perfect time to start the process, you have plenty of time. Coordinate with the school principal, the PTO, and the School Board. Line up a speaker – I’m willing to bet your local YMCA, Park District, or Red Cross would be more than happy to spend 20 minutes talking to children about water safety. Or coordinate with your local Rotary International group and bring Josh the Otter, Stewie the Duck, or some of the great free materials at to your school.

The messages for children are equally simple as the fire messages:

  • Never go near water without an adult;
  • Wear a life jacket whenever you are on a boat or if you can’t swim or can’t swim in deep water;
  • Take swim lessons;
  • ‘I can swim’ means you can swim the length of a big pool without stopping or putting your feet on the bottom.

Your willingness to spend a small amount of time will have a positive impact on all the children in your community for the rest of their lives. Are you in?

About the Author

Global water safety for children is my passion and I can't wait to get up every day to work at it! I blog about water safety regularly at, or you can follow me on Twitter at RebeccaSaveKids. Rebecca is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


One Response to “Fire Safety & Water Safety: Can’t Schools Teach Both?”

  1. Sarah says:

    Those are some really scary statistics about death by water vs fire! There are many more opportunities for things to go wrong with water too, even just around the house or in the bath tub. Not to mention “accidental drowning”, a terrifying phenomenon where inhaling just 2cm of water can slowly kill a child over a few days.
    Thanks for bringing this up and I hope the school takes this into careful consideration!

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