It happens, we misinterpret information, we make assumptions about the speaker, we create meaning based on our previous experiences and none of these may come close to what they speaker meant. Fire prevention, fire safety, and accident prevention are not exempt from misinterpretation on the part of the firefighter giving the presentation or the audience receiving the information.
A few of the following phrases probably remind you of your first visit to a fire station in grade school, do you remember where they apply? Did you know there's more to the story than the short phrase?
- Stop, drop, and roll
- When in doubt get out
- If you can't put it out get out
- Practice Fire Safety. Watch what you heat.
- Smoke detectors save lives
- Crawl down low, when it's time to go
- Get out quick, before the smoke gets thick
- Fires that are small, soon will be tall
Firefighters may relay correct information and the audience may be excellent listeners, but translating information from experienced firefighters and making it easily understood by young children can be more difficult that it looks! Short soundbites work great, but fire prevention should grow beyond the classroom. You remember stop drop and roll, but there are some other aspects you can consider now that you're aren't in elementary school.
Things to consider about your favorite emergency and accident prevention phrases:
Stop, drop, and roll - If your clothes catch fire STOP what you are doing, DROP to the ground, and ROLL to smother the flames. This is a true statement but remember your surroundings. Do not stop and drop if you are in, on, or around pools or puddles of flammable liquid such as oil, diesel, or gasoline.
Sleeping with your doors closed is safer - This is important as it helps delay or stop the spread of fire through a building. If you cannot hear your smoke detector do not sleep with the door closed. You should have properly placed and tested smoke detectors, including one in your bedroom, but if you do not, the detector cannot alert you to smoke at 3:00 AM if you cannot hear it. Contact your local fire department as many have assistance programs or free detectors and free installation if you are in need.
Crawl low when it's time to go - This is true when there is smoke. Smoke has the ability to kill and more fire deaths occur due to smoke inhalation than burns or any other injury from fire. While you are crawling you should check for doors for heat before opening them. While you may not crawl directly into fire, as you could sense the heat or see the flame, it is important to check the floor. You may not be exiting the building immediately after the fire started, your residence may have suffered significant damage before you woke up. Crawl carefully. Your floor may have been significantly weakened because of fire in the basement or other areas. Firefighters are taught to "sound the floor" as they move through a building - listening and feeling for weakened floors which may not be able to support any weight due to seen or unseen fire damage.
How we say what we say, and the experiences we use to assign meaning to new information are never uniform. We may send and receive information in the same language but it is the information not spoken that often has the greatest impact on what we hear.
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Alex is a volunteer firefighter in Evansville, Indiana and a full-time firefighter in Providence, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter @FireSafetyAZ