You likely heard it in school – the famous adage to “stop, drop and roll” in case of fire. The phrase is ubiquitous throughout the American school system. But, did you ever wonder where this came from – and why that’s what most of us remember when it comes to fire and safety education in childhood?
In this blog, we’re talking about the history of the phrase, as well as how we can use it today and move beyond it to further childhood fire safety education.
The phrase first started emerging in the 1970s, after there were many fires involving flammable clothing in the 1950s and 1960s. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the concept dates back to 1973 specifically, when the publication of America Burning 1 featured a strong emphasis on flammable fabrics, as they were a major cause of burns in children.
In 1974, the phrase really became well-known after the NFPA and Public Safety Council aired a PSA about the concept, featuring Dick Van Dyke. The campaign was called “Learn Not to Burn,” and included posters also with the message to stop, drop and roll. Soon, the phrase was all over – in various reports, media campaigns, in schools and more.
Within several years, the NFPA started reporting seeing lives saved as a result of the widespread messaging.
Efficacy and Concerns
There’s no doubt that if your clothing catches fire – stop, drop and roll can be very effective. Stopping helps minimize the airflow, which would be increased if someone instinctively tried to run away from the clothes on fire. Dropping makes the flames go vertical, reducing the areas likely to burn – especially the face. Finally, rolling further reduces the airflow and can help extinguish the flames.
When done correctly and in the right circumstances, stop drop and roll DOES save lives and can extinguish small clothing fires.
However, there are concerns around the messaging, too. For example, children especially can be confused about when to utilize this technique, and may confuse it with the advice to “get low” if a fire alarm goes off, to avoid smoke inhalation. They may also think when they hear a smoke alarm they should stop, drop and roll rather than trying to escape. Additionally, stop, drop and roll is not very effective if a high amount of accelerants are present on clothing. Finally, there’s often confusion around where to place hands during stop, drop and roll – whether to cover your face, put them at your sides or cross them across your chest.
But, the biggest issue of all? Stop, drop and roll doesn’t stop a fire from occurring in the first place – and that’s the most important priority when it comes to fire safety.
Moving Beyond "Stop, Drop, and Roll"
While it’s great for children to know what to do during a fire, it’s even better for them to know how to not create a fire risk in the first place.
Thanks to regulation born of all the flammable clothing incidents in the 1950s and 60s, there’s now much better regulation around clothing and textiles, and the materials that can be used for them. However, children should be taught to stay at least three feet away from any open flames, heat sources or cooking appliances, like the stove. Parents should always monitor their children while working with any of these items to make sure they stay back.
Children should also be taught what to do when a smoke alarm goes off – to get low and escape. Families should create a home fire escape plan with their entire family and practice the plan at least twice a year, including walking through the home and pointing out two exits in each room.
Finally, children should be taught the difference between tools and toys – lighters, matches, candles and other heat sources should NEVER be handed to children or treated as toys. Adults should teach their children these items can only be used by adults – they’re not toys.
“Stop, drop and roll” was an incredibly impactful campaign in the fire safety world – but it’s appropriate to also focus on prevention of fires in the first place, rather than only what to do if they happen.