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Teaching Kids To Be Prepared For Night Fires

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By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We teach children to be aware of stranger danger, but many parents never teach their kids about fire danger, even though eight people die every day in America when their home catches fire.

Rebecca Modert believes her son could have become the next fire casualty when his bedroom caught fire.

Three-year-old Alex Modert fell asleep to the red, white and blue glow of his night light in December. He woke up to a different type of glow. His mother says the night light caught fire and burned to a crisp.

“It had actually fallen out of the wall,” she said, adding she saw flames shooting from the light.

The room was filled with smoke, and Alex was still in there, scared, covering his eyes, not knowing what to do. He said he didn’t know what do to, and didn’t scream for help.

“To me that was the most frightening thing. He was just waiting for me to come get him, and he didn’t make a noise and just trusted I would be there,” Rebecca Modert said. “There are a lot of lessons that can be taken away from this, and I’m hoping people can learn from our mistakes and things we could have done.”

She had never had the fire safety talk with her son. She always believed she’d be there to save him, but statistics tell a different story.

U.S. firefighters responded to nearly 400,000 fires three years ago, which is about a fire every 82 seconds. A few thousand people died, and some of those who died were children.

Aaron Surratt is trying to extinguish the chance another child will get hurt when a spark ignites. As a fire inspector and captain with the West Metro Fire-Rescue District, he teaches kids what to do when they see a fire, and to not to be afraid of firefighters.

He says it’s important to teach them while they’re young.

“(Children are) like elephants. They remember everything,” he said.

Three- and 4-year-old children at Creative Play Preschool in New Hope now know how to react and will tell you: “Stop, drop and roll.”

One of them, Cooper Alberts, already knows what to do. His Fergus Falls home caught fire in January, and his family says it was caused by an electrical short in the attic wall.

“I grabbed my mom’s pet dog and ran outside to the garage with nothing, nothing,” he said.

Cooper heard the alarm go off and so did his mother, Marcy Peterson. She opened the door to the upstairs to find smoke billowing out.

Cooper said he couldn’t wait to run outside.

“I just went really fast, like a rocket, and I just went in here,” he said, as he ran to the family’s garage. “I knew if ever there was a real fire, I knew I’d come here.”

He and his family had a fire escape plan and practiced it a few times, they said. The garage was their designated meeting place.

“I think because we had the plan in place, we didn’t waste a minute of confusion or hesitation, because we knew exactly what we needed to,” said Peterson.

Two boys from two families with two very different reactions to fires where lives are at stake. Cooper did the right thing by running. Alex did the wrong thing by hiding.

State fire specialist Becki White said Alex’s reaction isn’t uncommon. It’s not unlike the game of “Peek-A-Boo.”

“If I close my eyes, it’s not there, and I don’t have to deal with it,” she said.

What should Alex have done?

“Left the room would be a start. Yell for mom and have him leave the room, that would be the best thing to do,” White said.

Since the fire scare, Rebecca Modert has taught Alex what to do in the event of another fire, and he can tell you himself: “Scream and get out and cry.”

The night light came close to hurting him, but it put fire safety in the forefront for the family, a lesson that will last a lifetime.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled that Night Light and two other models, which is about 261,000 units in all.

The company that makes it has got 18 reports of the night light smoking, burning or melting.

An electrical short can cause it to overheat and smolder or melt. One person has burned, too.

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