Parents: Lessons learned from the daycare center fire that killed 3 children in Houston
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on February 25th, 2011
It was a parent’s worst nightmare – a kitchen fire broke out in an in-home child daycare center in Houston, Texas, this week, leading to the deaths of three children and serious injuries to four other youngsters.
The home was filled with smoke as firefighters scrambled to rescue the children, ranging in age from 18 months to 3 years old, from the burning house, according to a story filed by The Associated Press (AP).
Many questions still remain as fire officials and others continue to piece together and investigate how the disaster happened in the house.
One of the many factors that will certainly be reviewed at the in-home daycare center is its license and permit for the number of children who are allowed by law to be enrolled in the house, according to the story.
A Houston spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services told the AP that up to six children under preschool age can be cared for in any 24-hour period in registered child-care homes under state regulations, the story said. The spokeswoman had no comment when asked if the home complied with the rule. “Our investigation is just starting, and we have a lot of work to do,” she told the AP.
The home has been in operation as a licensed child-care center since last March 1, according to the story. Just before it opened, “it was cited for not having a fire extinguisher or carbon monoxide detector, but the deficiency was corrected last Feb. 24,” the story reported.
All of this will take time to sort out, from the cause of the smoky blaze to who was working in the daycare center when the fire started and everything in between.
In the meantime, we all grieve for the families whose lives have been shattered by this terrible tragedy.
At the same time, there are lessons that all of us can learn from this unfathomable disaster that has claimed the lives of at least three young children.
First, as parents, we need to know a lot about any facility where we are leaving our children for daycare, after-school care or even music lessons or tutoring.
It’s not something that we typically think about quite often, but the tragedy in Houston can serve as a reminder that it needs to be something that we look at much more closely in the future to better protect our children.
We can take several steps to do this, including:
*Asking to see permits and licenses that show a facility meets established safety regulations in a community.
*Asking about emergency response, first aid and other related training that employees of the facility have undergone as part of their job responsibilities.
*Carefully inspecting the facility to be certain that an adequate and mandated number of fire extinguishers, first aid supplies and other equipment are on the premises and clearly marked and available for emergency use.
*Checking to be sure that properly installed and operating smoke detectors are in every room where children are present. We can also check to learn if the smoke detectors are hard-wired into the building, rather than just operated by batteries, which can fail, leaving occupants unprotected.
*Ensuring that there are emergency escape plans and procedures in place that are practiced by employees in the facility so that everyone knows what to do in a disaster to protect the children in attendance.
This case will almost certainly end up in court, but lessons learned from this tragedy could help inspire even greater safety in facilities wherever children are being cared for across the nation.
That would be a fitting legacy to the children who died in this horrific fire.
As parents, we need to ask many questions before we ever leave our children with others in a wide range of facilities.
Check the facilities out yourself with a fine-toothed comb and if you are concerned about anything that you find, talk to the center’s operators. If your concerns go unheeded, then talk to local regulatory authorities in your town and state. Know those regulations inside and out to protect your children.
The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education in Aurora, Colo., offers a “Parent’s Guide to Choosing Safe and Healthy Child Care,” which includes additional helpful information to help ensure safer child care choices. The site also includes information on child care facility licensing regulations state-by-state across the U.S.
You are ultimately the one who cares the most about your children and their welfare, so don’t leave these things up to someone else to check and ensure.
And if you ever need to get legal help or advice about daycare, after-school or educational facilities for your children, be sure to contact us here at MyPhillyLawyer for caring, compassionate and expert legal assistance.