SIKESTON -- Four-year-old Lakeynn Huffman didn't stop, drop and roll last month when her home caught on fire, but she didn't have to. In fact, Lakeynn and her older brother, Cody, 7, took a proactive approach to the dangerous situation.
Around 7:45 a.m. Feb. 11, Cody smelled smoke from the upstairs level of his grandparents' home on Gladys Street in Sikeston. He immediately told his grandmother, Ella Huffman, who then directed Cody and Lakeynn to get out of the house.
"I told them, 'Lakeynn and Cody, you all go to the meeting place,' which is the sidewalk off to the side of the house," Mrs. Huffman recalled.
The children listened as Lakeynn took charge of her older brother, who has cerebral palsy. They wound up at the meeting spot their family created for emergencies.
"She helped get him out. Cody walks with a walker, but he didn't have it and Lakeynn held onto him and led him out to the sidewalk," their grandmother said.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Huffman checked out Cody's suspicion and discovered there was a fire upstairs. Once she verified the fire, she met with the children and they ran to a neighbor's home and called 9-1-1.
"They were troopers," Mrs. Huffman said about her grandchildren. "They listened, and they listened well. They didn't question me when I told them what to do. They didn't ask 'Why?' or 'Are you coming?' They just did it."
Mrs. Huffman said the family practices fire drills (and tornado drills during the season) every two weeks, and it has paid off.
It's plans like the Huffman's that increase a family's chance of survival. More than 4,000 Americans die each year in fires and more than 25,000 are injured, the U.S. Fire Administration reports.
Families usually have a fire safety plan in place a week or two after Fire Prevention week, which is in October, noted Capt. Jim Hailey, fire division commander for the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. But after that, the plans may become a little foggy, Hailey pointed out, adding plans need to be in place year-round.
Families need to have an escape route planned in advance, especially with houses that have a front and back door on the same end of the house, Hailey advised. Route a window or something to go out and have a specific area you can meet once a fire has occurred.
Through the years, Hailey has noticed kids becoming more receptive to the safety programs in schools and hopefully it's sinking in, he said.
The Huffmans also credit schools for instilling fire safety in their children.
"I really commend the schools for always doing the fire drills and the fire department for coming into the schools and teaching the kids. I think it really sticks with them," noted the children's aunt, Kimberlie Huffman.
George DeLisle, secretary-treasurer of the Portageville Fire Department, said he thinks students grasp what they learn during Fire Prevention Week when he and five others with the department go into the schools and discuss fire safety.
"They always remember stop, drop and roll," DeLisle said. "We go through the training and talk about what a fire plan is, what to do and not to do and if they know their addresses."
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, parents should familiarize their children with the sound of their smoke alarms, keep matches, lighters and other ignitables out of reach of children and avoid dressing children in 100 percent cotton garments, such as oversized T-shirts.
Fires are "really cyclical," but overall November and December and July and August are the common fire months, Hailey said.
"In the summer time, the attics just heat up to where they're ripe for burning, and it doesn't take much exterior heat to get them going," Hailey said. "Heaters and fireplaces in need of repair are causes in the fall -- but the problem with fire is you just never know."