Lessons learned from the fire

We began our second week of vacation with a full night’s sleep. That is not unusual in our house. Daniel may get up the earliest most days around 6:30 or 7. Once in a while he’ll need to get up in the night to go to the bathroom, but he’ll go back to sleep. At his mom’s he frequently wakes up in the middle of the night and plays for a few hours, but that has happened very little here. He is even doing it less often there and that may be due to a weighted blanket.

No, the unusual thing isn’t that we all slept through the night. It’s what we slept through. Actually, it’s what most of slept through. Deanne was here and she heard the noises. She woke me up to ask what it could be and I thought it was probably just a garbage truck picking up at the store down the street.

I was wrong, very wrong. It turned out to be a store set ablaze by an arsonist. The end of the street was marked off for a few days by police tape as investigators looked for someone who was missing. Very tragically, the police found the body of a young man in the store.

When we did get up that morning, I could hear big diesel engines and all sorts of commotion.

After it was light out, I went to take a look and wondered how to manage all the little routines that would be affected by the street being blocked. At that point the biggest issue was how to walk to and from the house using a different route to the bus stop.

A couple of days later a dear friend, Kelly, mentioned that there had been a house fire close to her and her kids were deeply affected. She had a brilliant idea: let’s take the kids on a fire station tour.

She set it up and promised to bring along someone I had to talk to.

Several amazing things happened as result of this tour.

As a result of getting to the fire station early, the kids and I had a bit of a pre-tour. When everyone else arrived, the firefighter suggested Rachel do the presentation.

This isn’t such an odd thing. If my family has any traits, they would seem to be the ability to talk and to feel comfortable talking. Deanne will often say that Rachel must breathe through her pores because she talks non-stop for long periods of time, seemingly without inhaling. Our bedtime phone calls often involve her dictating rules to elaborate new games that may last a half an hour. She is almost always ready to present and to tell stories in great detail.

Within the first 10 minutes at the firehall, Rachel had told all the firefighters about the number of times she had visited a fire station (this was her second visit) and the number of times she had sat in a firetruck (three times before). She gave details about when and where. She also found a way to work in the names of her parents’ new partners and the fact that only Deanne heard the sounds of the fire down the street. There was a lot more she told them, but I was spending time making sure that Daniel was handling the environment well.

We tell our kids at an early age to respect people wearing uniforms and to listen to what they tell us. That may work for most of our children, but Daniel was not going to stand still to listen to a presentation about fire safety.

Both my kids shone that day. Rachel did an amazing job at being a presenter. She could not have  been any more accurate at repeating what the firefighters had already told her. My friend who works in sales training wanted to hire Rachel on the spot.

My expectation for Daniel was that if he couldn’t be engaged, then at least I could keep him stimulated him. He was terrific. He lasted the whole afternoon without any difficulty. Where Rachel stole the show with her presentation, Daniel stole it back with his ability to wait and to do his own thing, including spending time on the firetruck.

I can see everything from here.

Daniel’s calmness carried over to lunch when I had the opportunity to speak to the person Kelly brought along: an ASD consultant.

Aside from being in the field, this person has a very interesting skill set. She is a former competitive swimmer and teaches special needs kids water safety and swimming. Both my daughters love the water, but Daniel does not. We had made some progress with him in the water, but he is again pretty disapproving even of the bath.

What we don’t know is what it is that he doesn’t like. He does not tolerate having his hair washed now. That is a step back. Is it the sensation of water on his head and he is upset that any water will get there? Is it the temperature? In the case of a public pool, is the echo or the smell?

There is a lot to investigate here and we now know someone who can help us explore this.

Thinking about safety was an important part of last week, the second of three full weeks the kids and I will spend together this summer.

Having a fire so close, made me think more about our plan if there is ever an emergency. Having working smoke detectors isn’t enough. We need a plan that included two escape paths. Getting two kids out would be challenging enough. Smoke and fire detectors make a lot of noise and few of us know how we or our children will respond in the middle of the night with such a startling sound.

All of the kids at the firehall asked great questions about what they should do and what to expect. As can be expected, they also asked about all of those cool tools.

It has me thinking about how to prepare the twins for an evacuation without using the front door should that ever be necessary. I am not afraid to admit that I wonder how Daniel will accept such a situation. This does not mean that I am not concerned about Rachel. I am a little worried about that she might want to take toys with her. Thankfully the firefighters talked about that and about pets.

I need to do some more thinking and have more discussions about fire safety.

At the same time, there is a wonderful new person who can help me start to address water safety for Daniel. Special needs kids and adults are less likely to be prepared for water hazards than other kids and adults. i shudder to think about someone on the spectrum wandering off and falling into a lake, river, pond or even pool.

Being on vacation with the kids seems like a very good time to think more about their safety.


2 thoughts on “Lessons learned from the fire

  1. I adore Rachel. She’s precocious and fun and so sweet. I LOVE that she got dressed up to go to the fire hall – it’s so her! I’m looking forward to hearing her presentation. Daniel never ceases to impress me – he had absolutely no issues with us having to take a torturously different route to the bus stop for instance. I love that he mellows out and does his own thing. You raise an excellent point about evacuating the kids from the house – its a real concern for me too, especially when it’s a 2-1 adult to child ratio. I really must plan proactively rather than relying on it not to happen.


    • Ohmigosh, I totally forgot to add that Rachel picked out her prettiest dress to go to the fire station. I wish I had thought to bring the video camera with me for the tour. Then again, I had no idea that Rachel would be doing the presenting and owning the place. With Daniel, I see him as being very calm and it is easy to help him explore new places. In fact, I think he is more accepting of changes than his sister.

      Having 2 kids and one adult does make it challenging enough to think about how to keep everyone safe in a fire. ASD adds another level to that. I don’t want to suggest that NT kids would find it easy or be more compliant, but autism forces us to think a little differently about how to get the kids out.

      Several months ago there was a story on the interwebs about a municipality that suggested a registry of autistic people with police and fire services. My back immediately goes up at the thought of civil liberties abuses, not to mention privacy issues. On the other hand, how can I let first responders know that we may have a special situation in evacuating a house in case of a fire. That needs some more thought, too.


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