Romi Sussman

Safe Rooms, Sirens and Fires

I’ve had a few sleepless nights this week thinking about the Sassoon family and the unbelievable tragedy they have experienced. And, of course, like most people, I’ve tried to picture what I would do in a similar situation. Where would we run? How would we get out? Are my kids aware of what to do in the event of a fire? As many others have written, if nothing else, the deaths of these seven beautiful children should, hopefully, help to save other lives; the lives of families that might otherwise not have put in smoke detectors or not have considered escape routes.

Many Israeli homes don’t have smoke detectors. Do we think we are immune to house fires? I really don’t know. I think, instead, that many people think that our stone homes won’t go up in smoke the way that wood houses will; that the fire won’t have the opportunity to lick and bend and move about as it does in a house built in another way. Is this true? I have no idea (but a few recent articles this week have said that it’s not). But we haven’t, until now, had smoke detectors or really thought too much about fires.

That all changed this week. I know there are a million types of accidents that can occur, and this is just the fixation of the moment. But that doesn’t make it any less important as one of the many ways to heighten safety in the home. Today, we installed the smoke detectors. We have always had a fire extinguisher. And we started to talk about how we would escape should there be a fire. Typically, if you’re awake during a fire, you’ll be able to make it out. But it’s when you’re asleep that you may not have the time, the wherewithal, the presence of mind.

We are considering what we need to do to make our bedroom floor safer in the event of fires. Ironically, we can’t get out of any of our windows since they have bars on them to keep terrorists out. We have a door which goes outside, but it has to be unlocked with a key and then the second door with bars has to be unlocked. Not great options. We are probably going to replace the double door with a single, keyless entry option. The ironies are not lost on me. The bars may keep us safe from one potentially deadly situation, only to be a detriment should a different deadly situation arise.

How far do you take your safety measures? How do you balance one against the other?

As we contemplate these issues, we decided at dinner tonight to bring up the topic of fire safety. I was curious to see if any of the kids had heard about the Sassoon tragedy. They had not. And I was curious to see what they know already about fire safety. I decided not to share the tragedy with them for two reasons. I didn’t want to scare them more than necessary. Talking about fire safety is one thing. Giving them a picture in their minds of seven trapped children who died in their beds is another. And secondly, my kids have enough to worry about. Seriously. Their lives are complicated, convoluted, tense. I don’t need to add to that list. While some parents were surprised and upset that the schools didn’t talk about the Sassoon tragedy, I was a bit relieved. Ok – we will teach them about fire safety. But give them a bit of a break with too much tangible fear – with too many pictures of children their ages.

As we sat at the dinner table discussing fire safety, the kids offered all sorts of tips that they already knew. Stay close to the ground and go for a door. Try to get out of the house as fast as possible. Sleep with a phone nearby so you can call for help. And so on. The schools are doing a good job of teaching them fire safety, road safety…they have fire drills, earthquake drills, general national emergency drills, etc.

But, as I described the sound of the smoke detector when it goes off, my six year old said to us, “So when I hear it I should go to the safe room?”

And I stopped breathing.

And my heart shattered.

And I wanted to cry.

Had we not had this discussion, my precious son might have ended up in the safe room when he heard the smoke detector scream. In the safe room. Trapped while a fire raged, and a fire detector blared for him to run outside.

Because that’s the world in which we live.

My children know war and bombs and safe rooms. Only in Israel does the discussion of fire safety have to include the differentiation between the sirens for when bombs fall (go the safe room!) and the sirens for when fire erupts (go outside!).

How many other children wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a smoke alarm and a bomb siren? I would never have thought of this nuance, this confusion for little children had this situation not arisen.

I hope and pray that we never hear the sound of the piercing siren we’ve just installed. But I am certainly grateful to have had the discussion with my children and to have ensured that they will not run to the safe room in the event of a fire.

The ever-complicated life and times of keeping kids safe in Israel – and everywhere.

About the Author
Romi Sussman is a teacher and writer. When she's not at her computer, she's juggling raising six boys ages 13-23 and conquering daily life as an Olah. She enjoys blogging here and on her personal blog at