Stay Current on Fire Safety Education

By TOM KIURSKI

Fire safety education is a specialized fire service topic and, as such, you should sharpen your skills to stay current. The best way to do this is to train on fire safety education basics. With the knowledge you gain from this training, you can conduct a successful fire station tour to bring your community and your fire department together.

 

FIRE STATION TOURS

 

Departments have conducted basic fire station tours for years. The public is fascinated by firefighters and fire vehicles. Ask your general fire department line administration how it handles tour requests; I am sure it gets many. If you don’t already have a tour request form that lists a date, time, station number, group, and any special group needs, create one. Know certain group information in advance so you can prepare for the event. Remember, you may have done hundreds of tours in your career, but each is special for the group coming to the station that day.

Clean and ready the fire station, trucks, and equipment for the tour; have handout material ready to pass out to the adult leader after your presentation. Assign a portion of the tour to each member of your crew; you do a disservice assigning one junior member to conduct a whole tour with no interaction with the rest of the crew. Do you want the group to remember one firefighter giving a tour while the rest of the firefighters sit in recliners watching television? Assign each member the part of the tour that best fits his job responsibility for that day, as well as one safety information topic. The engineer/driver can talk about transporting firefighters to the scene safely with seat belts on, the hoses and water supply, and getting crews out of a burning building. The medic can discuss medical equipment and some first-aid basics. A junior firefighter can discuss hand tools, firefighters’ gear, and recognizing that a firefighter is a friend. This team approach is helpful in sharing the workload and stressing the importance of teamwork to the tour group.

 

SCHOOL VISITS

 

In addition to having the community come to the firehouse, you can bring the firehouse to the community by visiting local schools and schoolchildren. Make sure your presentation is age-appropriate. Get down to the kids’ level from time to time, and pass out safety information for them to take home. Even if you think they know “Stop, Drop, and Roll” from last year, cover it again. Very few people remember information after hearing it only once, so cover basic safety topics every year. Discuss “Stop, Drop, and Roll” in a nonthreatening way; do not say, “If the fire gets on you,” to avoid giving them horrible images. Demonstrate the correct procedure and let the kids practice, providing encouragement.

As the children’s ages increase, expand the topics to meet their higher levels of learning. For example, young children need to know what a smoke alarm sounds like and that they should exit a building if they hear one. As they age, show them what a smoke alarm looks like, how it works, and how to change its batteries so they can help keep their families safe. Later, put them in charge of monthly smoke alarm testing.

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(1) Photos courtesy of Livonia Fire & Rescue.

With younger children, discuss the firefighter as a friend, regardless of his uniform, as previously discussed for the station tour. Wear your station uniform, then don your turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Discuss the emergency telephone number, 911. Children should know and remember this number; have them repeat it a few times during your talk. Emphasize that you prefer adults to call 911, but if kids are home alone or with a person who needs help, the kids can call 911 themselves. Tell them to stay on the phone with the dispatcher and try to answer the dispatcher’s questions.

Ask the kids if there is such a thing as a “good” fire. Tell them the answer is “Yes,” and mention fires that cook our food, give us a warm fireplace fire in the winter, and light candles on a birthday cake, but explain that the tools used to start good fires are the same tools that can start bad fires—fires that can burn their toys, clothes, and even homes (also deal with this subject in a nonthreatening way). Tell them that matches and lighters are the tools only adults should use to light good fires and that the kids will learn to use the tools correctly when they get older. Avoid telling the kids to never touch them, as they may take this too literally. Also remind them to be “fire helpers” by blowing out dinner candles after dinner or by gathering sticks for campfires; their parents will let them use matches and lighters when their parents think they are ready.

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(2)

Discuss exiting a fire building by “crawling low under smoke.” Explain how smoke rises and that the cleanest air is at floor level, so the kids should stay low on their hands and knees. Some may try to do a belly crawl; discourage this. Explain that some fire gases are heavier than air and can sink to the floor, and it can take more time to exit a building. Have the kids practice the hands and knees crawl under a blanket to the door that leads to the room of the next presentation.

As the kids settle back into their group, secretly sound a smoke alarm and ask the kids what is making the noise. Once they answer, take out the smoke alarm, show it to them, and tell them to go home and find out what their smoke alarms look and sound like. Sum up the day’s learning, take two questions, and distribute your handouts, which you should always give at the presentation’s end. Or the teacher can pass out the handouts to the children.

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(3)

Upper elementary school children can handle more information about smoke alarms, SCBAs, and PASS devices. As a demonstration, don your gear in a timed drill as the kids cheer you on. You can also expand on home fire safety planning, such as creating and practicing a fire escape plan, creating two ways out of every room in the home, and having an outdoor meeting place.

In middle school, talk more about cooking fire safety, since at this age many of the students have started cooking. Discuss limiting distractions while cooking, not leaving cooking food unattended, and cooking on back burners with the pan handles turned. Also discuss fire extinguishers and how they operate.

High school students must prepare to head out on their own, so talk basic fire safety, such as focusing on good cooking habits, candle safety, the need for home smoke alarms, and having a solid emergency escape plan for when a fire alarm sounds.

 

HOMEOWNERS, FAMIILIES, AND SENIORS

 

When speaking with homeowner groups and school family groups, advise them on fire escape plans and assigning helpers to those too young to take care of themselves. Also discuss smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and home safety surveys. You can also add other safety tips, such as the importance of child safety seats in vehicles, bike safety, and poison prevention, to name a few.

With senior groups, discuss the challenges they may face, such as slip and fall hazards in the home or cooking issues; tell them to bring a pot holder around the house with them as a reminder to return to the kitchen when cooking, or to set the kitchen timer. As olfactory senses may falter in the elderly, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are important to install and maintain.

 

BLOCK PARTIES AND OPEN HOUSES

 

To interact with families outside the fire station, plan block parties and open houses. A block party is a great way to meet a large number of residents. Prepare a short program, and then visit and talk to the families, letting children examine the fire trucks while taking pictures.

Open houses can bring large numbers of residents to your fire station to meet the firefighters. Plan this event well in advance so that you can develop many fun activities for the families while giving them some great safety information.

Demonstrations are always a big draw, so vehicle extrication, fire extinguishers, air ambulance visits, and rope rescues are all big thrill items. Character visits by the National Fire Protection Association’s Sparky the Fire Dog or the United States Forest Service’s Smokey Bear are always welcome additions to any event. Demonstrate where a firefighter dresses up in full personal protective equipment with SCBA, and then mingle for pictures. Supervise the children on how to squirt a (smaller) hose, and let them don clean firefighter gear (order them plastic helmets to keep; do not allow them to try on real firefighting helmets), and have them practice “Stop, Drop, and Roll” and “crawling low under smoke.” Create a few more displays and photo opportunities. Check with neighboring fire departments for open house recommendations, and make arrangements to share props with them.

Seek out department members who really enjoy the public education aspect of firefighting and have them help out with these projects. They do not have to be officers, but have them report to an officer, give them some responsibility, and see what they can do.

TOM KIURSKI is a 27-year fire service veteran and the training coordinator for Livonia (MI) Fire and Rescue. He has authored more than 200 fire safety magazine articles. He has an associate degree in fire science, a bachelor’s degree in fire and safety engineering technology, and a master’s degree in public administration. He is also a Michigan state certified fire instructor.

 

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