It was when we returned home that the tears began.
“You should have told me we were leaving because of a fire,” she said. “I didn’t get a chance to take my teddy bear, and I was worried about him.”
With my partner being a volunteer firefighter, activating our household’s evacuation plan is up to me. On that day, I tried to make it easier by avoiding telling the kids why we were ‘going out’. But it didn’t quite work out that way.
As parents, we want to protect our children from scary events like bushfires. That’s why I’d urged the kids into the car without telling them we were evacuating from a nearby fire threat. But we can’t hide major events from them for long.
And once my daughter found out there was a fire near our home, all she could think of was her teddy, who was lying on her bed and in danger.
By trying to protect my children from something scary, I’d accidentally worried them even more.
Lesson learnt. After that, we prepared a fire plan together as a family, and it was one of the most important household conversations we’ve had. So important, in fact, that we’ve reviewed our plan together before each summer since.
When we pre-emptively left home during the recent Black Summer fires, I sat the kids down first to tell them what was happening and asked them to activate their parts of our fire plan.
As it turned out, there was much less worry involved when they knew what was going on and what their roles were.
When it comes to evacuations, talking and planning are the keys
Before the bushfire season, it’s important to set a fire or emergency evacuation plan, or review the plan you already have in place.
But this isn’t a job for one person in the household. The whole household needs a say in this, so that everyone knows what to expect in the case of an emergency.
Every member of your household will have different considerations in an emergency. For example, one person might remember that the sprinklers should be turned on, another will consider packing an emergency kit, and someone might immediately think of how to include pets in the plan.
There are even more important conversations to have, too, about when you’ll leave and where you can go.
For those who have a first responder in their household, it’s important to remember that they might be away at the time, so you need to consider what’s realistic for the remainder of your household.
It’s useful to write all these considerations down, so that no one forgets anything in the rush and stress of an evacuation.
And when an evacuation comes about, remember to talk again. Each member of the household, no matter their age or abilities, needs to know what’s happening. (And to have a chance to bring their teddy bear.)
Need to write or review your household’s fire or emergency evacuation plan?
Check with your local fire service for tips on how to write a bushfire plan.
Megan Blandford is a writer and author.