Before 2002, Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman never imagined he would become a politician. He also never imagined receiving a call from his wife while he was out of town, telling him that a fire had consumed their home in Roseburg, Oregon.
That fire would change everything for Freeman, from his appreciation for his family to the energy he puts into emergency planning at home and on his job.
Freeman’s home caught fire while his wife and young children were asleep in bed together, taking advantage of the extra space provided by his overnight absence. The family’s outdoor cat was also taking advantage, enjoying a rare night indoors (Freeman is allergic to cats).
Although the family had two smoke alarms installed in their home, the batteries in one of the alarms had expired, and the other alarm malfunctioned, never sounding a warning to wake them. It was the cat that alerted the family to the fire, and by that time, it had spread throughout the rest of their home. The family quickly realized to their horror that they couldn’t escape on their own.
Just 3 minutes and 48 seconds after receiving the call, the Roseburg Fire Department arrived on the scene and pulled Freeman’s wife and children swiftly to safety. The family lost their home, most of their belongings and some beloved pets in the fire, but their lives were spared. Firefighters said if the family had been inside for one minute longer, they would have died.
Freeman acknowledges the lucky coincidences that aided his family, but he credits the fast response of the fire department for their escape. When the family rebuilt their home, they did so with safety first and foremost in mind. They installed smoke alarms in every bedroom, outfitted their home with carbon monoxide detectors, and had other safety features built in, such as additional outside access doors. The family also has a designated place to meet outside the house.
Since the fire, Freeman has started educating his friends about preparedness and encourages them to install safety features in their homes as well. He also recently volunteered during the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign by helping install smoke alarms in homes throughout the community.
While having safety features in place is a great first step, Freeman’s family can also attest to the importance of maintaining them. The family now checks that their alarms are functioning properly on the Fourth of July each year, the same day that they practice their emergency drills.
Freeman emphasizes that escaping a building in an emergency is the most important thing. He and his family pay little attention as to what they might take with them. “Family photographs and documents would have been nice luxuries to have after our home fire,” Freeman explained, “but the value of material possessions pales in comparison to having my family intact.”
Firefighters estimate you have less than two minutes to get out of a burning building. Would elderly people, children, or medically dependent people in your home be able to escape in an emergency? Do you have an escape plan in place for your household? And most important, have you practiced it?
Local Red Crosser Steve Eberlein made a one-minute video that shows his children practicing their emergency plan. The clip addresses some of the fears young children have such as “What about my stuffed animals?” and
“Will I get in trouble if I pop a window screen?”
Eberlein said, “It’s important to have the conversation with your kids ahead of time. Talking to them reduces their fear, although it will never go away completely. But practicing how they’ll escape in an emergency is the best way to build their confidence.”
Practicing the escape plan ensures you and your family will do automatically what you need to do in an emergency rather than panicking in the moment.
Young children have strong attachments to their pets and other prized possessions. Eberlein and his wife needed a frank discussion with their daughter about her desire to get a pet goldfish. She was determined to save it in the event of a fire.
“My daughter knew she would do everything to save her goldfish and wouldn’t be able to leave it behind, no matter how much we told her she had to. So, she decided it was best not to have a goldfish for right now. She knows her responsibility is to help her younger brothers get out if there is a fire,” said Eberlein.
Since the Eberlein siblings live upstairs in their family home, they needed a lot of practice exiting out of the boys’ window and down a throw ladder. It’s kept on the roof for emergencies. Steve and his wife gave a lot of encouragement to their children as they coaxed them down the ladder during practice sessions. It’s a scary task for adults, but especially so for children.
Nevertheless, the more the children practiced going down the ladder, the less scary it became for them and the faster they are at escaping. While there’s always room for improvement, Eberlein says his children are ready.
As you watch the video clip, you’ll be encouraged to put your own escape plan into place and then practice it!
Note: The Eberlein family’s escape plan is unique to their family home. The Red Cross does not endorse this plan as the only option for you and your family. Please be extra cautious with your children if they need to escape a second-story room.