Holly Robinson Peete knows how busy moms are. She's the mother of four herself. But she's giving the moms (and families) of America one more thing to think about: fire safety.
Peete, a popular TV actress who has starred in shows such as Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, For Your Love and 21 Jump Street, has recently partnered with insurance giant Liberty Mutual to increase the awareness of fire safety, particularly for families with children.
"My four children are my world, so I do everything I can to ensure their safety," she said. "This includes making sure that my home is free of fire hazards and talking to them often about fire safety."
Home fires are incredibly preventable. But sadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans die in home fires each year than all natural disasters combined. The National Fire Protection Association Reports that in 2007, nearly 400,000 home fires were reported resulting in close to 3,000 deaths, 13,600 injuries and over $7.4 billion in property damage.
"When I started to hear the statistics, I wanted to get involved," Peete said. "I think like many moms I've been a tiny bit naive about fire safety for kids at home."
Peete says there are five fire prevention tips that she has started to incorporate in her daily life and hopes other moms will too.
- Pick a Date It's important to check the batteries on your smoke detectors once a month, but more important to change those batteries once a year. Peete suggests choosing a date you'll remember -- "Make it your child's birthday," she said. If you don't have a working fire detector on every floor of your home, invest in them. If a smoke alarm is older than ten years, change it. Also, make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher in your home and you are familiar with how it works. Review the directions every six months.
- Have a Talk, or Two or Ten It's important to impart to kids fire safety, but Peete stresses it's a talk you should have more than once.
"Don't just have a talk and then cross it off your parent to-do list," she said. "Have a series of talks so they'll really know what to do if there is a fire." A recent survey by Liberty Mutual found that 84 percent of parents don't discuss fire safety, a number made especially startling when you find out that children under 5 are twice as likely to die in a home fire.
Cover every aspect -- including what to expect if the worst happens and there is a fire in your home. Peete points out it's important to explain to little ones exactly who firemen are and that they won't necessarily look like the person that came to speak at their preschool.
"Studies have shown that a lot of kids are scared to go with the firemen because they look scary," she said. "With all their gear on, they can look scary to a young child. But it's important to teach them that they need to go to the fireman no matter what he looks like. Parents should explain to their child what they can expect."
- Make a Plan and Practice it Have a fire escape plan and make sure that every member of the family knows it. Practice it a few times -- both during the day and at night. "The kids do fire drills at school," Peete said. "Why wouldn't you do it at home." Designate a "meeting place" and practice getting there as quickly as possible.
- Practice Safety in the Kitchen "We're busy," Peete said, "everyone is. But one of the biggest problems, and I do it too, is to leave food cooking on the stove unattended. Most home fires start in the kitchen so this is something we need to be diligent about." Peete concedes her own kitchen is a "circus" between four kids, a mom, a dad and two dogs, but she said in her home they've taken care to sequester the cooking area of the kitchen to keep it a bit safer.
Peete also says turning off smoke alarms while you cook is a big no-no. "It's really dangerous and not worth it. What if you forget to turn it back on?"
- Candles are Pretty, but Dangerous Never leave burning candles unattended. This may seem obvious but it's an important warning. Make sure all the wicks are trimmed and make sure candles aren't near anything that can catch fire easily. "Fires are so easily preventable," Peete says. "That's what makes it so heartbreaking. Children's lives are at stake."
Peete, who has taken an active role in the lives of kids across the country with HollyRod, a foundation she founded with her husband, says you should talk to your kids about fire safety at any age -- she's already done so with her 3-year-old son. "The earlier you start talking about these things, the better," she said. "They aren't always going to be with you, so this is a way to keep them safe, even if you aren't around."
You can find more safety tips and videos at Be Fire Smart , a comprehensive web site put together by Liberty Mutual that features videos from Peete and Marcia Gay Harden as well as pages for parents and kids.
"Being a mom, I know what it's like to juggle the kids and all the responsibilities," Peete said. "When I was approached to do this, I started to think about what I wasn't doing and I realized I wasn't alone. So I thought that people might want to hear this message and make some positive changes."
Get more advice and ideas from celebrity moms like Joan Lunden, Mia Hamm, and Jane Seymour here -- Parenting Tips from Celebrity Moms