When Alyssa Romary opened her eyes, the room was full of smoke. The 10-year-old climbed down from her bed and felt the doorknob — hot. Running to the window, she hooked the escape ladder on the windowsill, unfurled the ladder and climbed out.
There was no fire, though. It was all an instructional fire safety exercise the Romary family and the Merriam Fire Department filmed last week for the Shawnee Mission School District as part of National Fire Prevention Week.
“It makes me feel better that just in case a real fire should occur in our home, (my daughters) would know what to do and hopefully would come out of it safely,” said Kimberly Romary, Alyssa’s mother.
With the aid of a theatrical smoke machine, Alyssa’s 8-year-old sister, Madelynn, demonstrated how to climb down stairs while ducking beneath the smoke.
“It was very scary to see the house fill up with smoke — it caught me off guard,” Kimberly Romary said. “The first time I saw them come down the escape ladder, I had to turn away, because it made me nervous. It makes me feel a lot better as their mom to know that they’d be able to do it should they ever need to.”
She said the family has paid more attention to fire safety because her daughters learned about it at school and asked to practice. Still, until last week, they had never taken the escape ladder out of its box.
The smoke machine set off the Romarys’ smoke detector and scared neighbor Juanita Reeves, who said the demonstration “really looked real.”
Firefighter Lonnie McGill, captain of Merriam’s Station 61, said one of the most important things a family can do is designate a safe meeting place, such as a neighbor’s mailbox, so that firefighters know if everyone is out of a burning house.
The girls’ father, Neil Romary, said that practicing their escape plan made him more aware of how nervous Alyssa was about climbing out of her second-story window.
In a real fire, “they’ll still be nervous, but hopefully it won’t be that deer in the headlights look,” he said.
The Merriam Fire Department visited the girls’ school, Merriam Park Elementary, earlier that day to demonstrate safe ways to escape a fire. The department also has a monthly educational series for fifth-graders about fire safety and other emergencies.
Having the demonstration in her home made the dangers of a fire seem much more real, Alyssa said.
“There was a fake bed… much shorter than my (loft bed) … and the window, I just had to fall through, I didn’t have to climb down anything,” she said.
The first time she tried to climb out her window and down the ladder was earlier last week, and her fear of heights was a real problem.
Even in this demonstration there were a few hitches getting the ladder unfolded and properly attached to the window. That’s one of the reasons families should practice their escape plan at least twice a year, Pape said.
“Only one-fourth of the population out there has actually practiced a home escape plan, so we wanted to show people how one is done and to actually get more people to practice one,” Pape said.
Pape also said that smoke detectors that are more than 10 years old should be replaced, and residents should check their smoke detectors once a month to make sure they are functioning properly.