In a time when fire deaths and injuries continue to plague many communities, firefighters are becoming more involved in presenting fire safety education programs to help educate their citizens and make them aware of their personal risk. This concept is not new, but many fire departments struggle with how to get the citizens to want to know the information the department can provide. Only by recognizing this dilemma can we begin to instill in the community the desire to learn how to become firesafe.

Although there are a number of ways to present programs to limited groups, such as in schools, neighborhoods, and businesses, we at Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue face a challenge in trying to effectively educate and manage the approximately 5,000 people who show up for one of our two annual Open House events. Our answer is “Divide and Conquer.” Though the terminology seems more appropriate to war, we are indeed fighting a battle to save lives. We offer a number of props and activities designed to move our audience from event to event. Our goal is to make it impossible for them not to have fun. Our objective is to teach them some aspect of fire and life safety at every activity in which they participate.


We should teach and remind our citizens that the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” technique is the best way to put out fire involving their clothes. Children love to practice this drill, and that practice should be encouraged and rewarded. To illustrate the importance of practicing “Stop, Drop, and Roll,” we wanted a more visual display. We wanted to take some children’s clothing and burn away about a quarter of the material (enough so that anyone seeing it would still know what item it was) to dramatize what might happen if clothing catches fire and the wearer is unfamiliar with the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” technique. We wanted to attach the burned clothes to plywood and construct a frame around it with an appropriate message and a Plexiglass™cover.

As it happened, a local Boy Scout was looking for a project to earn a merit badge for community service. We gave him the idea and the materials, and he built a fine display. We had an inexpensive prop to place alongside our “Stop, Drop, and Roll” practice mats (photo 1). This emphasizes the importance of keeping your eyes and ears open to outside help available in your community.


Close by the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” practice area is a long piece of carpet on which kids can practice the “Crawl Low Under Smoke” drill. There are numerous ways to coax the children to show you what they can do-for example, two firefighters can hold a blanket or broom handle a few feet above the floor and have the kids crawl under. Alternately, a tunnel may be constructed with PVC piping and covered with a blanket. A more detailed setup may be constructed with wood and shower curtains and then painted (photo 2). Our “Mr. Smoke” tunnel beckons children to crawl under or suffer the consequences!


The importance of keeping smoke detectors in working order may be highlighted with a wooden display that includes common household items burned beyond recognition in structure fires in the community. We try to include the burned remains of a smoke detector without a battery along with other items. This emphasizes the importance of checking smoke detectors for proper operation. These displays may be placed on tables at an Open House or at the entrance of fire headquarters, or they may be used in a traveling unit that visits city libraries and schools (photo 3).


It’s fun and educational for kids to see firefighter turnout clothing. It lets them know what equipment is needed for the job and who wears it. At our Open House events, we have full turnouts and SCBA at one location; a firefighter is assigned to explain the equipment to our guests (photo 4). Every 45 minutes, a firefighter dons the equipment, and an announcer explains the process. We use simple terms, realizing that our audience members aren’t primarily firefighters. The firefighter wanders among the audience so members can become familiar with the equipment and pose for pictures with the firefighter.

At another location, we have turnout coats for children to try on. Some were ordered in children’s sizes; others are outdated coats that have been cleaned for the purpose. A two-wall unit announces the “Firefighter Dress-Up” area for children. The inside walls are made to resemble a fire station, with a turnout coat rack and a mirror so the little firefighters can see how they look (photo 5). We encourage parents to bring cameras. Many do not, so the mirror allows the kids to see themselves dressed up. This takes the clothing out of the mysterious realm of things the children know little about.

This simple unit uses two six-foot-high by four-foot-wide walls covered with plywood and painted to resemble a fire station wall. Angled pieces of wood fit on the top and bottom of the display, holding it in place.


To help kids practice the “hang-drop” method of lowering themselves out of an upper-floor window, we made a prop using a window donated by a local window replacement company. We built a wall around it, placing it about four feet off the ground. On one side, there are steps leading up to the window; on the other side are gym mats to make for a soft landing. A firefighter explains the proper procedure, demonstrates it, and allows the children to practice it (photo 6). Simple wood framing, a donated window, some steps, and gym mats are all that are needed to provide kids with the opportunity to gain practical training on the best way to escape from a window. As we always encourage the kids, “Practice makes permanent!”


We encourage our preschool children to practice with our “What’s Hot, What’s Not” display. Most of us have seen activity sheets on which kids color pictures of toys that are okay to play with and cross out those that are not okay to play with. We took the idea one step further. Our wooden unit is covered in felt-red (“hot,” not okay to play with) on one side and blue (“not hot,” okay to play with) on the other. Participants are given a container with painted felt cutouts of objects and are asked to place each item on the correct side of the board (photo 7). With just a little help from firefighters and parents, they learn to get them right, adding to their fire safety knowledge.


To encourage the use and regular testing of smoke detectors in the home, we built a large walk-through smoke detector. The children walk through the mock detector and get a look at the inner workings. People are invited to press a functional button to test the unit. We used a small smoke machine several times during the day to show that our smoke detector actually works. An actual smoke detector is used in the inside of the setup (photo 8).

Keep in mind that by broadening our definition from “fire safety” to “life safety,” we enter a number of other areas that can help keep our citizens safe.


We all have probably responded to a number of traffic accidents that included fatalities, many of which could have been avoided if seatbelts had been used. Our “Buckle-Up Truck” is a miniature wooden fire truck with seats on all sides (photo 9). The seats offer different types of seatbelts for kids to try on. This helps ingrain good habits in the children, lets them know that firefighters strongly encourage seatbelt use, and can make their use a permanent part of their behavior when riding in vehicles. Children can try on as many different types of seatbelts as they want; they can move over to another seat to get the feel of a new safety mechanism.


An article on poisoning presented some staggering statistics: Children between ages one and three were most likely to be victims of poisoning, and these children may mistake medicines for candy. We went out and bought candy and nonprescription medicines and found that many of the medicines were “dead ringers” for common candies.

We cut out the labels and glued them to a painted board, which we later framed and stained (photo 10). We made certain to place the candy next to the medicine that it resembled. Except for minor markings, they were difficult to tell apart. We have displayed our Poison Board in schools, in libraries, at health fairs, in city hall, and at our Open House events. It is surprising how often we hear the comment, “They really do look alike!”


We wanted to give fire station visitors and those attending our Open House events a chance for a few great photo opportunities. Pictures with firefighters and apparatus make great shots, but we still wanted to offer something more.

Although wall murals featuring horse-drawn apparatus, Maltese crosses, and other fire-related items are great to look at, we wanted an interactive mural that allowed visitors to become part of it. This would generate more excitement among visitors and encourage more members of the community to stop by for a visit.

Our wall mural may seem a bit strange to visitors at first. The mural on the wall is painted sideways! The mural depicts a fire truck racing down a street leaving behind a huge dust cloud. A loose hose hangs from the back of the truck. Visitors reach upward to grab the hose, and a photo is taken with the camera held sideways (vertically). When the photo is developed, the visitor appears to be flying through the air, hanging onto the hose behind a fast-moving fire truck (photos 11, 12).

Just for fun, we used some leftover paint from our projects to turn some simple sheets of plywood into fun props with which youngsters can take pictures (photo 13). We painted characters on the plywood and cut out holes through which the children could put their faces for an instant “photo opportunity.”


Another just-for-fun activity included at our Open House events is the “Junior Firefighters Agility Test.” With great fanfare, we announce that we are looking for some strong “Junior Firefighters” to join our team. With a gathering of many brave, pint-sized souls, one of our firefighters then demonstrates the procedure for our test.

Beginning at the starting line, the kids move to an area where they quickly couple two hose ends. A firefighter assists each child. To avoid problems, we use 13/4-inch storz couplings with the washers removed. Once the hose ends are coupled, our “candidates” take a plastic nozzle and unlined hose (both from an old high-rise pack) through a series of tubes to an orange cone (photo 14). There they drop off their hose and carry a small fire extinguisher back to the starting point. The firefighter checks the stopwatch, but all the kids seem to pass the test. They are awarded a gold foil badge and a home safety inspection form they can fill out with their families when they get back home.


In Michigan, our main water sport season lasts only through a few summer months, but many lives can be lost during this season. Drowning deaths are preventable, so we present an educational program at our June Open House event. Our display of Lego® boats in a water setting features occupants who are all wearing life preservers (photo 15). A sign above the display reads, “Think water safety: When on the water, wear your Boat Coat.” A city lifeguard works this table and gives out free passes for our city swimming pools.

There are many ways to get fire and life safety messages out to citizens; only a few have been covered in this article. If you have an idea that works well for you, share it! Hopefully, you will find at least one idea in this article that will help expand your existing efforts. It will be well worth the future rewards!

Photos by Captain Lou Waldock, Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue.

TOM KIURSKI is a firefighter, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community effectively and economically and is available at

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