New London firefighters tackle fire safety with homeschooled children
New London — “Oh my goodness sake!”
That’s what one child said Monday afternoon when she learned the picture on a screen depicted a burnt-up pan.
The pan had melted in a real fire, city Fire Marshal Vernon Skau told his captive audience of about 10 children. They were there, huddled in the community room of the Public Library of New London, as part of a workshop series aimed at area parents who home-school their kids.
“Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?” Skau asked, again looking to the screen. Now a melted smoke detector hung from the wall of the gutted house. “That’s right — there was no battery in the smoke detector.”
He advised the kids to make sure their parents check smoke detectors in their homes.
The workshop series was the brainchild of Tyasha Pace, an employee of the library who handles youth services. It has been running for more than a year, covering different topics each month. Some parents bring their kids regularly. Others, learning of the events from Facebook and other spots, stopped by for the first time.
Of why she chose fire safety education as a topic, Pace said she realized it was something that happens in area schools on a regular basis.
“But when you don’t have (traditional) school, how do you get that knowledge?” she asked.
On Monday, children along with many parents watched as a firefighter tried on his gear.
“Would you be scared if you saw this in your house?” Skau asked.
Some of the children timidly nodded.
“You should never be scared of firefighters,” he said.
Throughout the hour-long course, Skau asked many questions, occasionally eliciting laughter-provoking responses and eventually getting to the right answer.
If a firefighter is yelling for you, you should yell back. If your door is hot to the touch, you should use the window to escape. If you’re not on the first floor, you should stay at the window, waving and yelling, until firefighters arrive and can get you to safety — as long as the blaze hasn’t reached your room.
The kids also got an up close and personal tour of one of the city’s firetrucks, and learned the right way to stop, drop and roll.
Skau has participated in countless educational events such as Monday’s, but many of those happen at schools or day cares — not with home-schooled children.
“It probably is a group we haven’t reached yet,” he said.
Skau is passionate about prevention education, especially with regard to kitchen fires. As is true with the country overall, about half of New London’s fires begin in the kitchen.
Soon, as part of a grant the city recently received, Skau and company will be looking to reach other previously unreached populations with the help of a new fire trailer. Built to simulate various types of blazes, the trailers feature objects like stoves and outlets that "catch on fire." Firefighters and other adults can use computerized fire extinguishers to figure out how best to approach the flames.
The trailers also emit smoke and replicate other scenarios one would encounter in a real fire, which makes them useful for educating the public.
Skau expects the department will purchase its trailer from BullEx in early 2018. At that point, firefighters first will target neighborhood groups and the city's college campuses for training.
The two-year, nearly $85,000 FEMA grant was crucial at a time when everyone is struggling to do more with less — especially because it also funds the salaries of the people who will be running programs for residents using the trailer.
"There's so much money spent on fire extinguishing," Skau said. "If you could prevent fire from occurring in first place, none of that risk has to be taken."
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