When I was about five years-old, a small fire started in the electrical panel in the basement of my home. I remember it from the lens of a child, but it is a memory I have carried ever since.

The overpowering acidic smell that made us cough and the way it lingered on me long after we’d left the house, the innocent excitement that only a child could experience when they have yet to experience real danger.

It’s like a movie flashback scene. Things move fast and slow in increments of time that were likely shorter than I remember. Time never mattered more.

I remember it was a Friday night, because my parents were in a sports league and those evenings my teenage babysitter Leanne was in charge of my older brother and I. It was Leanne who smelled the smoke first. We didn’t have smoke alarms back then. She located the source of the smoke and dialed 911.

It wasn’t long before the Whitby fire department was heading into our house just as she was carrying me from it, draped in a blanket over my pyjamas, my brother in tow, as we headed to her family’s house across the street.

I found it all quite exciting, but the adults looked concerned. My parents were on their way home and all would be fine, I was reassured. The rotating flash of red lights from the fire engines on the street swirled around my babysitter’s living room. It was mesmerizing. Nobody would let me go see the fire trucks, though. When you are five, you miss all the action. Everyone just wants you to go to sleep. As if sleep were possible after all that excitement. Besides, I couldn’t sleep in my own bed.

I don’t remember the aftermath, probably because that was an adult problem and I had bigger life issues to conquer, like hopscotch and how my Bionic sneakers made me run faster.

What I do remember is how relieved everyone was that the fire was small and that my babysitter did all the right things. Leanne, at just 16 years old, knew what to do.

The number of fire tragedies in the news lately is upsetting, because they could have been prevented. Fire departments and associations have taken to social media to encourage people to test their alarms.

So, this weekend the Carpenter and I decided to check all the smoke alarms in our home, as he normally does when we change the clocks. We have three smoke alarms, two of which are outside our sleeping areas. It took less than 10 minutes to test the alarms and reset them. We checked the CO alarms too. New batteries were required for one alarm. Good thing we checked. Simple. Quick. Vital. 

It’s funny how we have alarms on our cars, some on our homes and businesses. We protect our smartphones and computers with passwords. We lock our doors and gates. We protect the things that matter to us. Well, nothing in my house matters more to me than the three people I share it with. Absolutely nothing matters more. Their safety is priority one.

So please, don’t just read this: get up and test your smoke alarms. And if you need information about fire safety, contact your local fire department. Protect what matters most to you. No excuses.


Kelly Waterhouse