Photo by Lt. Melanie Snowhite
Firefighters are inherently helpful people and have a strong desire to be involved in their community, and Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire-Rescue (FLFR) Firefighters are involved with theirs on many levels. In the last year, the Department took another step forward to reach out by implementing a community literacy program. After much research, Lieutenant Melanie Snowhite contacted Broward General Hospital District Child Life Coordinators to discuss the possibility of a reading program in the pediatric division.
The hospital coordinators were very receptive and more than helpful to the guidelines suggested for implementation of the reading program within their facility. Now, whenever possible, FLFR Administration works with the facility to send on and off duty firefighters to the hospital to read to the children. “It was very apparent at the first visit that both the kids and hospital staff were very excited to have us there.” Said Lt. Snowhite. “Not only do our personnel read to the kids, they help put Lego cars together, make Play Dough figurines, and share in a variety of activities the kids find exciting and fun.” FLFR firefighters and the children gather in activity rooms to spend time together, but unfortunately, not all of the children are well enough to get to these rooms. As a result, the firefighters take extra measures and go to the sick children’s bedside to read and play games.
The fire department has received an overwhelming amount of support not only from our firefighters, but also from outside agencies in order to obtain donated reading materials for the program. Friends of the Fort Lauderdale Library assisted in locating children’s books within their cache and generously donated many of them. The department received donations totaling over 200 children’s books.
Since the inception of this program, FLFR firefighters visit Broward General Hospital twice a month, and each time has proven to be a great success and especially beneficial for all involved. The overall comments from those who participate have been enthusiastically positive. These children, some who are gravely ill and who are hospitalized for months on end, are like every other child who love to laugh, play and be silly.
Seeing another great need, FLFR Administrative staff, in conjunction with the FL FBA, was also responsible through this program to donate Christmas gifts to the hospital this past year. “At times, firefighters forget what an impression we make and that we serve as a role model for children,” said Lt. Snowhite. “The fact that we can make it into the hospital and brighten the day of sick children is amazing.”
The program is now moving into elementary schools. With over 42,000 calls a year Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue is an extremely busy department. The few downtime hours available to some of these firefighters are now spent making a tremendous difference in the lives of children.