Girl, 5, uses fire-prevention lessons in house fire

Mother: She could have freaked out, but she followed the family's emergency fire plan to a T

By Erika Wurst
The Beacon-News

AURORA, Ill. — Five-year-old Gracie White of Aurora was almost asleep in her mother's bed last month when she heard the shouts.

There was a fire, and this time it wasn't a drill.

Gracie's mother, Micah White, quickly rounded up Gracie's two sleeping brothers, ages 1 and 2. Then, she turned to her daughter.

"OK Gracie, there's a fire. We've got to go," White told her daughter. And swiftly, the preschooler sprung into action.

Gracie got up in her pajamas and walked barefoot next door, clutching her favorite stuffed bear.

"She didn't cry. She didn't say a word," White said. "She just told me to call 911 and calmly walked next door" to her grandparents' front porch, which was the family's designated meeting spot following an emergency.

White said her daughter could have frozen up that night. She could have freaked out, but she followed the family's emergency fire plan to a T.

It was a plan the Whites had put together and practiced when several Aurora firefighters visited Gracie's school, Annunciation Catholic, to teach about fire safety during Fire Prevention Month.

"Me, personally, it just brings a huge smile to my face," Aurora Fire Department Lt. Jim Rhodes said of Gracie's actions during the Nov. 20 fire at her home in the 700 block of Donna Avenue. "It's the perfect testament of why we do what we do. It actually makes a difference."

Every October, fire companies throughout Aurora visit preschools and elementary classrooms to teach about important drills like EDITH -- Exit Drills in the Home. The program encourages students to practice home fire drills and designate a meeting place for family members outside the home. This is the tool Gracie used that November night.

Rhodes said kids as young as 2 years old can learn drills like Stop Drop and Roll, Get Low and Go, and EDITH. They can also be taught to stay away from lighters, candles, and the kitchen.

"It's repetition," he said. "Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They're little sponges."

Gracie's mother said that as scared as she was that night, Gracie did exactly what was taught to do when firefighters visited her preschool class on Oct. 27.

"I think the program really made and impact on Gracie," White said. "We were just in awe of how calm she was. It was amazing."

Gracie's class was one of hundreds visited by Aurora firefighters in October. This year, the department conducted 383 school programs, reaching 9,132 students, Rhodes said.

He said each one of those students now has the potential and knowledge to act safely in the face of a fire. Gracie White is proof, he said.

"She said she was really scared (during the fire), but you would have never known it," White said of Gracie's actions. "She never cried the entire time, even as there were policemen and firemen coming in and out of the home."

Shortly after the fire at the White home, Aurora Fire Marshal Gary Krienitz received a call from Gracie's teacher thanking the crew of Engine Company 9 for doing an outstanding job during their school program, and for their work in teaching Gracie.

"Many people believe that nothing bad, such as their house catching on fire, will ever happen to them," Rhodes said. " However, this is not the case. It can happen to anyone, including you."

The fire at the White's home is still under investigation, but began in an attached garage. Damage is estimated to be more than $50,000, Rhodes said.


(c)2015 The Beacon-News (Aurora, Ill.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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