Matches and Lighters are “Tools, Not Toys”

“Children must be taught the proper function and safe use of matches and fire,” says Battalion Chief Randy Getz of the Hazelwood Fire Department.

Here are some ideas to remember:

  • A tool has a specific purpose and should be used only for that purpose.
  • Teach your children that the match is a tool for adults and has a specific purpose, such as lighting candles, starting a campfire or lighting a fire in a fireplace.
  • In general, the average age to begin the “Match is a Tool” education is about five. However, parents should determine when their individual child is ready.
  • For young children, keep matches out of their reach. This includes cigarette lighters and related items. The wooden “strike anywhere” kitchen match should NOT be used or kept in homes where young children are present.
  • For older children, parents should agree to let their children strike matches and use fire when appropriate, but only in the presence of a parent or responsible adult and under safe conditions.
  • Many fireplay (match play) problems can be solved simply by having the child promise to use fire and matches ONLY in the presence of the parents, and by the parents agreeing to allow the child to use matches when appropriate.

Fire has an important and necessary role in our lives. The earlier a person learns the proper and safe use of fire, the less likely there will be a desire to “play” with matches and fire.

The proper use of fire includes teaching the safe way to light matches. The following teaching sequence is suggested.

  1. Open package and remove match. (Use only the paper match.)
  2. Close package.
  3. Turn package over to the side with the striking surface.
  4. Hold match in proper position and strike away from the body.
  5. Hold match in horizontal position (after ignited) for 2-3 seconds.
  6. Blow out flame and wait until match is cool to touch (5-10 seconds).
  7. Repeat sequence.

Most children, at one time or another, express an interest in fire. Some children simply watch, but others may try to experiment. This interest is normal and healthy, but it must be carefully guided in order to prevent a tragedy. The statement, “Don’t play with matches,” gives the child no positive information and does not explain the safe use of matches.

A child’s curiosity is generally what causes him to play with matches. This curiosity must be guided by the parents demonstrating the proper and safe use of matches and by letting the child strike matches under supervision. Allow the child to strike matches under a parent’s supervision until he or she does not want to strike any more. Then establish the child-parent agreement to allow the child to strike matches in the future, but ONLY under the parent’s supervision.

  • You, as a parent, must set a good example in your use of fire. If you follow safe practices, your children will do the same.
  • Develop a HOME FIRE ESCAPE PLAN and use SMOKE DETECTORS to encourage fire safety awareness. Giving your children responsibilities in home fire safety will encourage a positive attitude toward fire and will discourage misuse of fire and matches.

Young children should be instructed to leave matches and lighters alone. If they should find matches or a lighter, they should tell a parent or other caregiver, rather than bring the matches or lighter to the adult (especially for children under five).

© City of Hazelwood

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