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Playing with fire

Recently, Calgary Fire Department’s (CFD) Engine 23 crew (from the Southview fire station) responded to an address in southeast Calgary due to reports of a school bus fire. When fire crews arrived, the bus was fully engulfed with flames that were threatening the church located next door. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire, preventing its spread to the church. Once the fire was declared under control, a thorough search of the bus confirmed that no one had been trapped inside. 

This is not where the story ends. According to the results of the investigation following the fire by a CFD fire investigator and Calgary Police Service (CPS) officers, the bus was not locked and was easily accessible by anyone wanting to climb aboard. The bus was ‘out of commission’ and was being used to store miscellaneous items such as chairs and books… creating a tempting place for children to play, unseen by parents or caregivers. On that day, a group of four children, all under the age of ten, decided to board the bus and play with matches. What happened next had the potential to be quite devastating. The children escaped unharmed and alerted a neighbor to the growing fire on the bus.

Children who misuse fire do so for several reasons, however, the most common cause is curiosity combined with unsupervised access to lighters, matches or open flames. Fires set by children are preventable. The number one action parents and caregivers can take to prevent curiosity fire setting is to keep matches and lighters up high and locked away. This can be more challenging in a home where smokers reside, as they tend to have matches and lighters with them regularly.

Here are some other tips to teach your children about fire safety and fire safe behavior:

  • Model safe behavior by only using fire in appropriate ways and putting it out completely when you are done with it.
  • Teach children that matches and lighters (fire) are a tool for adults and not a toy for children.
  • Discuss the dangers of fire in an age-appropriate way and explain that fire can grow and spread quickly. 
  • Keep small children at least 1 metre (3 feet) away from the stove, fireplace, firepit and space heaters when they are in use to avoid accidental burns and fires.
  • Never leave children unattended near any open flame such as a candle, fire pit, fireplace, barbecue or stove.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended with children (or pets) unsupervised in a room. Put it out before leaving the room, or opt for LED candles.
  • Consumer fireworks are not allowed to be sold or set off in the City of Calgary unless by a certified and permitted professional. 
  • Teach “Stop, Drop and Roll” so children know what to do if they get fire on their clothes.
  • Plan, draw, and practice your home escape plan twice a year to teach your children to recognize the sound of the smoke alarm, to get out and go to your meeting place and stay out until fire crews say it is safe to go back in.
  • Teach children to “Crawl Low and Go” in case conditions are smokey.
  • Teach children to tell an adult immediately if they find matches or lighters or witness somebody else misusing fire.
  • Teach children to call 9-1-1 for help, as well as what constitutes an emergency.

Fire is considered a tool and not a toy. You wouldn’t give your child a chainsaw to play with; therefore, matches and lighters, like other useful but potentially dangerous tools, need to be kept safely out of reach of children. Young children and some older children with learning disabilities cannot understand the possible dangers that fire poses to themselves, others or property. Most children who light fires rarely intend to cause harm or damage, however, the results of ‘playing with fire’ can be deadly.

Fire can double in size approximately every 30 seconds, and the smoke from a house fire can very quickly render a person unable to escape. If there is a child in your life that you are concerned about due to their misuse of fire or their preoccupation/fascination with fire, the Calgary Fire Department has specially trained officers in their Community Safety Division who run a specialized program for children called Youth Firesetter Intervention Education Referral Service (Y-FIRES). This program is free and can be accessed by calling the Y-FIRES Hotline at 403-268-2000. Y-FIRES is an educational program that has positive impacts on the safety of the entire family. More information on this program is available at

If you are looking for a book appropriate for elementary age kids that highlights fire safety in an entertaining way, No Dragons for Tea by Jean E. Pendziwol and Martine Gourbault is the number one “go to” for CFD members doing fire safety presentations. The CFD also partnered with the Calgary Public Library (CPL) to create and provide a Fire Safety Activity Book that is available at all fire stations and all CPL locations: This fire safety activity book is interactive and reinforces all the CFD’s fire safety messages.

If you are looking to visit your local fire station where you and your family or group can enjoy a tour of the fire trucks, meet the crew as well as learn about the various things the fire department does for your community, please call or visit 3-1-1 and book a free tour:

A virtual fire station tour video that is 16 minutes in length can be viewed here:

The Calgary Fire Department’s mission is to serve the community through excellence in fire prevention, education, protection and safety.

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