As the firefighters were combing through the destruction of last week’s warehouse fire in Oakland, a former Commissioner of the NYFD, Thomas Von Essen, appeared on a news broadcast. At the time, emergency responders were just getting the chance to move inside, so not much was known about the “how’s” or “why’s” of the fire.

Still, Mr. Von Essen shared some general thoughts about building safety, and brought up a conversation about dangers to which most of us who aren’t firefighting heroes are oblivious.

Mr. Von Essen said that when young adults go into a warehouse, dance club or party hall, they are not thinking about whether the building is safe. They’re not paying attention to whether there are ceiling sprinklers, bars on the windows or fire escapes. They’re not thinking about an exit plan in the event of an emergency. I think it’s safe to say that most of us adults aren’t thinking about those things, either.

It was an awakening for me as a parent. Many of our children have been in situations where they are in an enclosed space, either at sports events, concerts or dances, with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people.

Generally speaking, we know that we should talk with our children about drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex, safe driving and turning in their homework on time; but how many of us warn our children when they go out to a concert to look for ceiling sprinklers, clearly lit exit signs or fire escapes? We likely don’t remind them before leaving for the backyard barbeque to pay attention to how many friends are on the back porch and whether it can hold the weight.

Building safety is likely not on the top of the mind for those of us who are not firefighters and emergency responders. We don’t see first-hand the devastation created when an old building isn’t up to code or a remodel job took a few short-cuts. Especially with the upcoming holidays when New Years’ gatherings abound, having a conversation with your children to increase their awareness about building safety can only be a good thing.

The National Fire Protection Association offers some guidance that could be life-saving when at party venues:

• Make sure that the exits and the paths to the exits are wide and clear, and not cluttered or obstructed by chairs, tables or items propped up against doors. The exits should be well-lit so that in the event of a fire or darkness, the signs are still visible. In the event of a fire or power outage, a person could become disoriented even in a familiar location.

• There should be more than one exit, and they should be located on opposite sides of the building. An exit could become impassable, so know where all exits are located and be familiar with the path to get to them.

• Are there candles burning (that could be knocked over) or pyrotechnics that make you feel unsafe? Ask the manager how they keep the place safe.

Billboard Dance offered these tips:

• Be aware of overcrowding. If you have to wait to get into a venue, it may be for your own safety if the event is already at capacity. At events where there are displays, music equipment or art, in addition to people, it would be even more difficult to quickly move through the venue should an emergency arise.

• Are there fire extinguishers, sprinklers and smoke detectors scattered throughout the venue?

A person attending a concert or holiday party likely won’t know when the smoke detectors were last tested or if the fire extinguishers are regularly maintained. If these safety items are not visible, though, that denotes a clear danger. Another danger exists when windows are barricaded shut with bars or wood which prevent them from being broken in an emergency. Also, if you do not see security personnel present, that should be another warning sign.

Some communities have teen clubs where adults are not permitted. If your teen will be attending a teen club, you may want to check it out before the party to see the safety features yourself and hear from management how they minimize risks and would respond to an emergency. And, at the risk of being labelled as an overbearing parent, your child wouldn’t even have to know that you did this.

If your child is going out to a concert or party, encourage him or her to have a safety plan with friends. In an emergency, they could become separated and may drop a cell phone in the rush to get out, so they should have a meeting place that is outside the building and away from the exits.

It’s also good to have a “code word” that is known only to the friends that can be used in the event of an uncomfortable or threatening situation. Keep beverages in your hand to prevent something from unknowingly slipped into it.

As we sadly saw in Orlando, Aurora (Colorado) and in other communities across our great nation, the threat of terror exists even when people are going to a club to dance or to a theatre to watch a movie. In addition to teaching our young children about “Stop, Drop and Roll” in response to a fire, they should be taught, “Run, Hide, Fight” as a response to an active shooter.

When you’re young, it’s easy to think that you’re immortal and invincible, and that bad things only happen to other people far away from you.

“It might be that because the frontal lobes are not yet fully developed during adolescence that they’re more likely to make decisions, that they don’t fully think through the consequences of their actions,” says Elizabeth Sowell, Ph.D., neuroscientist.

The prefrontal cortex matures the most between the ages of 12 and 20. The Office of National Drug Control Policy states that we can help our teens prevent from engaging in risky behaviors. This includes having a warm, loving and close relationship with your teen; setting and consistently enforcing clear rules and consequences; closely monitoring your teen’s activities and whereabouts; respecting your teen; and setting a good example, especially when it comes to illicit drug and alcohol use.

Sometimes, when I pause to think of all the potential dangers that my young adult child may come across, I get a little anxious and just want to keep her safe at home under house arrest. But, at the same time, if I did that, she would never get to accomplish what she has been placed on this Earth to do. It would be a great misfortune not to share her with the world — even though I worry until I hear the porch light turn off and the door lock.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at

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