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Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center Inc.

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Fire/Electrical Safety

Angela Oswalt, MSW

Hundreds of children aged 14 and under are killed each year in a fire-related situation, and many, many thousands of children are hurt. Fortunately, there are several things that caregivers can do to reduce the possibility that their children will be harmed in this manner.

The most important line of defense in the home is early detection in the form of smoke alarms. There should be working smoke alarms in every level of a home and outside every sleeping area. Alarms can be either electric or battery-operated, but both kinds should be checked regularly to make sure that they are operational. If an alarm uses a battery, the battery should be checked every year to assure it's working. New alarms should be installed every 10 years. When installing smoke alarms, caregivers should make sure to read all manufactures' information and follow directions about how and where to install detectors.

Though fire alarms can warn of fires in progress in the home, they cannot prevent fires from occurring. There are simple steps caregivers can take to radically reduce the risk of fire occurring in their homes. Matches, lighters, and other heat and fire-producing tools should be stored out of children's view and grasp, preferably in locked or latched cabinets Toddlers and young children should be taught that lighters and similar devices are tools and not toys and must never be played with. Smokers in the household should be especially careful how they discard their used cigarette or cigar butts, always making sure that they are totally and completely extinguished (e.g., by immersion in water if necessary) before throwing them away. Smokers should never smoke in bed or when they feel sleepy.

While danger from fire is one part of the dangers associated with smoking, it is by no means the worst danger smoking has to offer. Smoke from tobacco products contains potent cancer-causing toxins that can also damage the heart, lungs and blood vessels, not only in people who smoke, but also in people who breathe in secondary smoke (such as children who live with smokers). Young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at dramatically increased risk for recurrent respiratory infections, asthma, SIDS, and cancer later on in life. They are also at risk of losing their caregivers who continued to smoke despite health warnings.

The very best thing adult smokers who are around young children can do to help protect those children is to stop smoking entirely. Material on smoking cessation is available in our Smoking Cessation topic center. Smokers who are not motivated to quit entirely, should at the very least go outside of their house to smoke so as to protect children's fragile lungs from the toxic second-hand smoke.

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