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It only takes a moment - A real-life experience for Franklin Fire officer

Since October is Fire Prevention Month I thought I would share something that recently happened to me.

Before I begin, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am the Fire and Life Safety Educator for the Franklin Fire Department. I teach people every day how to stay safe from fires and other hazards. My son and I have a home fire escape plan and an outside meeting place where we will meet in the event of a fire. I have smoke alarms in every room of my house and extra batteries on hand so when they chirp with a low battery warning I can change them out immediately.

And that’s exactly what happened on Labor Day morning. One of my smoke alarms was chirping, so I changed the battery and then I tested it to make sure it was working properly.

Later that afternoon, my son and I went grocery shopping. We came home and I put some ground beef in the skillet because I was going to make tacos for dinner. Then (here comes the irresponsible part!), I left the pan on while I went to put the dogs outside in the yard.  I was going to come right back in but … while outside, I got distracted (and now I can’t even remember by what) and forgot that I was cooking. I teach people to carry a potholder or spoon with them to remind them they’re cooking, or better yet, turn the stove off altogether when they leave the kitchen. That is not, however, what I did!

As I walked back up on the deck to return inside, I heard a smoke alarm beeping. I opened the door to find the kitchen full of smoke – only then did I remember the pan. I moved it off the burner and switched it off.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this (while I’m opening windows and turning on the attic fan) my son, who is 10, was sitting in the office watching TV with the door closed.

I opened the door and asked him (incredulously), “Didn’t you hear the smoke alarm beeping?!”  He just looked at me and said slowly “oh” – kind of like, “oops.” I said, “When the smoke alarm is beeping it means something is on fire or it’s about to be!”

But that wasn’t actually true. Because in our house when a smoke alarm is beeping it usually means I’ve changed a battery and I’m testing it (or dinner is overcooked). My son later told me that he thought I was just fixing the alarm again. By not having him practice escaping to our outside safe meeting place when he hears the smoke alarm, I had unknowingly trained him not to react at all.

I realized that if I had come in moments later there would have been a fire in the kitchen.  If I had waited just two to five more minutes, the entire room could have been in flames, extending into the hall. My son’s exit path to both the front and back doors would have been blocked, and his only egress would have been through a second story window.

And that is why it is so important for ALL of us to actually practice our escape plans, whenever our smoke alarms sound, for whatever reason. If we don’t, our kids will think it’s ok to continue whatever it is they’re doing and ignore a beeping smoke alarm, just like my son.

Take a few minutes this October during Fire Prevention Month to test your smoke alarms and practice your escape plan. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Have Two Ways Out!” It focuses on the importance of fire escape planning and practice.

Although it takes effort, planning for and practicing what to do in a fire could save the lives of you and your family members. For tips and tools visit the Franklin Fire Department’s


Jamie Melton is the Fire and Life Safety Educator for the Franklin Fire Department. Contact her at


Posted on: 9/26/2012


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