Project S.A.F.E.–“Safety and Fire Education”–is presented to children in kindergarten through fifth grades in Tiffin, Ohio. Each grade receives new material while reviewing concepts students learned the previous year.

The project is a theatrical, instructional display of fire safety education and methods. It demonstrates how a fire starts, what to do and what not to do to ensure personal safety, how to help prevent fires, and how fires are sometimes the result of something that seems innocent and fun.

The firefighters use a variety of props, games, visual aids, and magic tricks to convey these concepts. The major prop is a “house,” a facade of an average-looking home. It has a brick exterior, a door, and a window–all of which are functional. In the center of the house, where a garage door might be, is a wide door with a large photo of Tiffin`s Engine 3. The “house,” designed to be a self-contained portable unit, was built by the firefighters and serves as the centerpiece for the presentation to grades one through four. Seeing a familiar set at the beginning of each year`s program tends to keep the children interested and focused on the message. The prop is 12 feet long and six feet, six inches high. When folded, it is eight feet long. The house, 32 inches thick, also serves as storage for the various props used in the presentation.

The show begins with magic. Firefighter Tom Bishop`s tricks relate directly to fire safety, with messages such as the following: Make sure you know two ways out of your room in a fire, work out a safe meeting place with your family, and call 911 for emergencies.

Then Firefighter Pat Smith shows the audience two methods for escaping a burning house and demonstrates the value of a rope ladder. The children see an authentic fire alarm box mounted on a telephone pole. They learn what it is, how it is used, how dangerous a false alarm can be, how a real emergency might arise when the firefighters are busy at a false alarm, and how lives and property can be lost. Smith demonstrates what the alarm sounds like and what the results of turning in a false alarm can be. The department thinks this is very effective–since many false alarms are caused by people`s curiosity as to what will happen–and has noticed a decrease in false alarms.

Next, Firefighter Wayne Goble brings out a mirror about eight feet long and four feet high. The upper portion is painted to resemble smoke, and the bottom 12 inches are clear. The message is that smoke rises and that the best place to breathe in a burning house is near the floor. The children take turns crawling under the “smoke.”

Students then learn two ways to escape a burning house. They roll out of bed, crawl below the smoke, feel the door (hot from a heating pad), and realize the window is the best escape. They move to an agreed-on meeting place–a telephone, where they dial 911. They report the fire to an operator (one of the firefighters).

For the kindergarten and first-grade levels, a firefighter dons his turnout gear and explains each part and his breathing apparatus. This erases some of the fear the children might have about seeing a firefighter at work in full gear.

The presentation is tailored to each grade level. Fourth-graders see a doll house–a cutaway view of a house with PlexiglassTM over it. This is the home of the Hazard family, and they start a fire in every room of the house. The prop is specially wired to show flames in each room.

Fifth-graders play “The Fire Safety Feud,” an educational game show based on “Family Feud” that uses a full-size set complete with podium, buzzers, and answer board.

To gain support for the program, Deputy Chief Edward J. Schwab II took it to the school administration first for a demonstration. He also insisted that teachers be able to submit written critiques each year to evaluate the program`s effectiveness. Two activity books created by the firefighters and teachers reinforce the messages.

To fund the program, Schwab sends letters every year to local merchants, industry, churches, service clubs, and private sponsors asking for their help in defraying the costs of production and booklets. Donors have their names printed on the back cover of the booklets in gold, silver, and bronze, corresponding to the amount of their donation. n

Click here to enlarge image

Click here to enlarge image

Props include a fire alarm box on a telephone pole; the Hazard house, where the Hazard family starts “real” fires in every room; and magic tricks with fire safety messages. The whole show can be packed up and easily transported to schools. (Photos by Jim Shobe.)

PAT LEDWEDGE is a writer for the Tiffin Advertiser-Tribune. He writes and directs plays and is a graduate of Heidelberg College.

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