By Chris Furstenau
When firefighters educate the public about fire safety in the home, we often stress the importance of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, escape routes, and meeting places. Although all these are very good ideas and critical to keeping our citizens safe, there are many other components to further enhance their safety and well-being and which could be the difference between life and death.
A disaster supply kit for the home is something that most families–up until recently, mine included–do not have available in an easy-to-find and use location, although most homes have a majority of important items, such as flashlights, radios, first-aid supplies and bottled water, on hand already. But we can go one step further in our efforts to prepare for the next emergency.
Have residents start off by buying a storage bin, (found at hardware stores, home improvement stores, and general merchandise stores). An 18-gallon tote is sufficiently large to fit the basics but still small enough to be portable. If residents must evacuate their home in an emergency, the bin will also fit in most vehicles. Don’t forget the lid!
Inside the box, have them pack a good flashlight (with extra batteries), a radio (with extra batteries), a first-aid kit, some basic hand tools (adjustable wrench, pliers, screwdrivers), a blanket, bottled water, nonperishable food, can opener, toiletries, hand sanitizer, waterproof matches and/or flints, canned cooking fuel (those little cans used to keep buffet food warm), dust masks, a whistle, and a jug of pure unscented 5.25-percent household bleach (water purification tablets can be substituted for bleach). It is also a good idea to make sure that cell phones are fully charged, and have phone numbers stored in the phones’ memory.
The first aid kit does not have to be elaborate. It should contain a first aid manual, moistened sterile dressings, adhesive bandages, tweezers, latex gloves, antiseptic ointment, pain relief pills, scissors, activated charcoal, gauze pads, triangle dressings with safety pins, and any prescription medication the family may need. On the lid of the bin, tape securely a phone number list that includes the local emergency room, family doctor, poison control center, and the local utility companies.
When assembling this kit, residents should involve the whole family. Although there are no specific guidelines to follow, ask a few questions to ensure that members can survive for a few days with everything they have in that box. Emphasize creativity. Citizens need to ask themselves: Can we prepare meals with no running water? No stove/oven/microwave? Do we have enough clean drinking water to last three days? Did we remember our lifesaving prescription medications? Does the baby have formula/diapers/bottles? Will we be able to stay warm for a couple of days? What will we need if the power is out for three days? What will we do if we have to evacuate the home because of a hurricane? Tornado? Earthquake? Terrorist attack? Wildfire? Train derailment with hazardous material spill?
This is for reference only–in no way will it account for every possible situation. With large families, maybe two or three kits are necessary to accommodate for all the necessary supplies. Again, stress creativity and participation from everyone in the family that may be affected. If helping people assemble a disaster kit saves even one life, we, as public servants have done our job. It may even help your brother/sister firefighters in a time of need.
Chris Furstenau is a firefighter/paramedic with the City of Livonia (MI) Fire Department, where he has been serving the city for 6 years. He has been a firefighter for 10 years, both professional and volunteer. He is a CERT instructor, and is heavily involved in public education for the citizens of Livonia.