By Stephen Smoot
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 3,650 children under the age of 14 are at least injured in fires every year.
Last week, two Pendleton County elementary schools teamed up with local volunteer fire departments to make sure area children do not become a part of next year’s statistics.
Franklin Elementary School’s preschool and kindergarten traveled to Franklin Volunteer Fire Department to learn safety from local firefighters.
Joyce Bland, one of the classroom assistant teachers who brought the schoolchildren, added another important reason, saying “hopefully, we can entice some of them to become firefighters because there’s a desperate need.” She shared that “my son’s a fire fighter here.”
Eddie Keplinger, one of the volunteers leading the presentation, agreed, saying “you can pique their interest in the volunteer world.”
Children saw demonstrations of equipment, such as backboards, jackets, and helmets. Some even tried on a helmet. Then Keplinger and Katelyn Frank led the students over to the fire engine, opened up the compartments, and described what lay inside.
They moved in as close as they could, with children in back standing on their tip-toes to see.
Keplinger first pulled out extraction tools, explaining they are “to help us get people out of their cars if they have a wreck.” He asked, “Have you all ever heard of the jaws of life?” He explained how it helps to open up vehicles to remove accident victims.
Next, he shared “we’ve got a Sawzall in here. Does your dad have a Sawzall?”
After showing more tools, such as a Halligan and a push broom (“We still have to clean and sweep when there is a mess in the middle of the road, Keplinger said.”) Keplinger and Frank led each student through the cab of the engine. As they emerged on the other side, each individual had their picture taken.
Keplinger explained that one of the big lessons the fire department team tried to teach students lay in the fact to remember that during a fire, the adults in dark jackets, helmets, and noisy masks are there to help. “If they are in a fire, we don’t want them to be afraid of a firefighter. Hopefully, they will get the point about not being scared,” he commented. Frank put on the jacket, helmet, and other gear so that the kids know what a firefighter looks like if they come in to rescue them.
Many forget that small children experiencing the fear of a fire already may instinctively hide from firefighters, rather than seeking them out.
Children at North Fork Elementary also received an exciting, but vital, learning experience for National Fire Prevention Week. Seneca Rocks Volunteer Fire Department sent volunteers John and Kris Manly, Daniel Ewald, and Ruby Long.
According to Marlene Simmons, preschool teacher at North Fork, “We have been learning about fire safety in our classroom and wanted to invite the Seneca Rocks Fire Department to come in and share some information with our students.”
The Seneca Rocks volunteers demonstrated the protective gear, showed their equipment, “And also talked about some of the fire safety procedures,” Simmons said and added that “they talked about some scenarios that the kids may encounter and what the correct protocol was.”
As in Franklin, the children showed both excitement and an eagerness to learn. As a reward, they received a “goodie bag” and got to hear the siren go off.
“It was a great experience,” Simmons shared.