Preparation Key for Staying Calm in an Emergency

By Kellie B. Gormly, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Aug. 5–Tammy Wittmer-Bagby knows that household emergencies and disasters can happen at any time, and that families need to be ready.

She and her husband, Justin — a firefighter — have a household emergency plan for themselves and their son, Vincent — who will be 2 on Saturday — in case a fire, or other disaster, happens. All of their house’s rooms have two separate access points, so someone can escape through a door or window. The window of Vincent’s room has A Tot Finder Fire Safety Sticker so emergency crews could find him first. Family members know to meet at the mailbox in case of emergency.

“Everyone should have (an emergency plan),” says Wittmer-Bagby, 37 of McCandless. “Extremely so if you have kids, but everyone should have one, no matter how old you are.”

People hope they never have to face a household emergency. A number of incidents might precipitate a call to 911 — a fire, flood or tornado; a family member’s heart attack or bad fall; a tree crashing in a storm. Planning how to respond to them — and training children to react, as well — can save lives, officials say.

Unfortunately, too many families don’t have a concrete emergency plan, says Josie Pritchard, external affairs officer for Region 3 of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Families can’t wait until the last minute,” says Pritchard, whose region includes Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. “They cannot implement a survival plan when the disaster is knocking on their door.

“We really don’t think about some of these things until you watch TV and see some of these things happen,” Pritchard says. “You just have to be prepared. It really is so, so critical. … It’s extremely important that people have a plan, and I don’t think that the majority of them do.”

Young children can be taught to respond to emergencies at some level, she says. Many television reports have shown small kids saving their parent’s life by calling 911 to say, “My mommy is hurt.”

FEMA offers a Web page just for children — — with age-level information and games about preparing for disasters. People also can call the agency at 800-480-2520 to request free brochures on the topic.

As former firefighters, Mindy and Rick Stadler of Latrobe know how important it is to plan for emergencies, and they have trained their child well.

The Stadlers have told their son, Logan, 14, to come and wake them up if he hears a smoke detector going off; but, only if he first has felt his door, to make sure it isn’t hot from a fire. Otherwise, the Stadlers told him, Logan should escape out a window. If either parent gets critically ill or is injured, Logan knows to call 911, stay on the line and speak clearly to the operator. If an emergency causes a family evacuation from the house, members know to meet at the corner telephone pole.

“The biggest thing that we’ve tried to teach Logan is, ‘Keep your head … and be calm,'” says Mindy Stadler, 44.

Natural disasters such as fires and floods can be traumatic, but so can medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, falls, chokings, poisonings, asthma attacks and the like. The American Red Cross, which has its Southwestern Pennsylvania chapter Downtown, offers first aid and CPR courses, which both adults and children can take. Although there is no age minimum, most kids enroll at about the middle-school age, says Elva Andersen, an instructor and trainer with the local Red Cross.

Children, even the young ones, can do many things to respond to a medical emergency, Andersen says. They can, for instance, help stop bleeding from a wound, help asthma sufferers sit in a comfortable position, and recognize signs of a heart attack or stroke.

Both parents and children should seek first-aid and CPR training, Andersen says, in case a medical emergency happens to either of them.

“Most people assume they will be there for their household,” she says. “Parents overlook the fact that they may be the ones that are injured.”

Jason Thomas, fire chief for the Braeview Fire Department in Lower Burrell, says households with young children should display the Tot Finder stickers, and households with pets should display similar stickers that tell firefighters and emergency workers how many animals, and what kind, are inside. Both stickers often are available at local fire stations.

People should have more than one plan to escape their house, but they should know what the easiest way out is, and use that, if possible, Thomas says. He recommends that families pick an outdoor spot — like the backyard oak tree — where members will meet in case of emergency, and practice a fire drill with their kids a few times a year.

Thomas and his wife, Dawn, and their daughter Makayla, 10, have designated their backyard shed as their meeting place.

“Pre-planning is always the best way to go,” Thomas says. “You should prepare for any emergency in your home, whether it’s fire, flooding, or anything like that.”

Emergency numbers to keep by each phone

–Police, fire and ambulance numbers; in many areas, it’s just 911. If 911 doesn’t operate in your area, dial 0 for the operator.

–U.S. Poison Control Centers hot line: 800-222-1222

–Family physicians and pediatricians

–Health plan’s medical number

–24-hour pharmacy number

–Any other numbers that might be important, such as those of parents’ work, neighbors, relatives and friends.

Home first aid kit

A few items that a household first aid kit should include:

–Any regularly taken, critical prescription medications

–Sterilized gauze squares, in assorted sizes

–Roller gauze, in 1-, 2- and 3-inch sizes

–Adhesive bandage packet

–Roll of adhesive tape

–Small scissors


–Petroleum jelly

–Safety pins, in assorted sizes

–Soap or other cleansing agent

–Syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting (to be used only after consulting with your doctor or poison control center)

–Copy of the American Red Cross handbook, “Standard First Aid & Personal Safety”


Household safety plan American Red Cross tips for creating a household safety plan:

–Contact your local Red Cross chapter or emergency management office, and ask about what types of disasters could happen here, and how you can prepare for them.

–Learn about your community’s warning signals — what they sound like, and what to do when you hear them.

–Make a plan for caring for your pets in a disaster. Animals are not allowed inside most emergency shelters because of health regulations.

–Find out how to help elderly or disabled members of your household, if applicable.

–Find out about disaster plans at your child’s school, at your work, etc.

–Sit down with your family and discuss the need to prepare for a disaster.

–Pick two places to meet in an emergency: a spot right outside your home, or a place outside your neighborhood if you can’t return home. Everyone must know the place’s address and phone number.

–Ask an out-of-state friend to be your “family contact.” Make sure every family member has this person’s number.

–Discuss and rehearse what to do in an evacuation. Quiz your kids every six months or so.

–Teach children how and when to call 911. Even many toddlers can do this.

–Show each family member how and when to turn off the utilities at the main switches.

–Get everyone trained by the local fire department on how to use a fire extinguisher, and show them where the extinguisher is kept.

–Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.

–Test your smoke detectors monthly, and change the batteries at least once a year.

–Find two ways out of each room in the house.

–Invest in a battery-powered radio and have a flashlight handy, so you can cope if you lose electricity.

–Keep spare food and water stocked for an emergency, and replace it every six months.

–If disaster strikes, remain calm and patient, and put your plan into action.



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