Editorial: Fire safety lesson

Reading, ritin’, ’rithmatic ... and fire safety?

That’s the lesson we’ll take from a recent house fire in Heath.

What certainly could have turned out to be much more of a tragedy had a happier ending, thanks to the actions taken by 16-year-old Rachel Heil. “I told her it’s our opinion that she saved three lives that day — her own and her siblings,” Heath Fire Chief Michael Smith told The Recorder Monday. “If she had tried to go down to the basement or if they had stayed in that house a few minutes more, they may not have made it out.”

And Rachel told firefighters that she was using her family’s emergency plan to get herself and two sisters safely out of the burning house.

The idea of an emergency plan should not be a surprise. Schools across the state, include Heath Elementary School, use the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services’ Student Awareness of Fire Education (SAFE) program, where local firefighters and schools connect to help educate students of all ages in recognizing the dangers of fire and hazards associated with fire. Part of what’s stressed through the program is for children to go home and talk about what they’ve learned and the need to develop an emergency escape plan should there be a house fire.

And it’s a program that works.

During the 19 years the program has been in place, it has helped reduce the average number of children killed by 70 percent.

“We used to lose 18 children a year to fire, said Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office. “Now we lose, on average, six. But for the past three years, we’ve lost one person to fire under the age of 18.”

Obviously there are a number of factors that come into play in reducing the number of fatal fires. But it seems that getting youngsters to understand what they and family members should do in such an emergency has to be considered the key. And three girls living in Heath are proof of that.

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