Hands-on approach helps local kids learn about fire safety

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This year, MFL MarMac third graders practiced escaping a smoke-filled home. For the activity, students got on their hands and knees and crawled along the ground-level floor, where the smoke was less heavy. Once they reached the exit, they ran across the yard to a designated meeting spot. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Getting to spray a fire hose is one of the most-enjoyed stations for kids attending the Monona Volunteer Fire Department’s program for National Fire Safety Week.

To simulate the effects of fire in a home, the Monona Fire Department created a small-scale house and set it on fire. It showed MFL MarMac third graders how smoke and fire rise and quickly spread.

During Fire Prevention Week, Monona firemen talked about the different fire trucks, and the equipment housed in each, including the Jaws of Life, a chainsaw, generator, traffic cones, tools and more.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

An important aspect of National Fire Prevention Week involves telling kids about fire safety: install smoke alarms throughout the house and check them monthly, develop an escape plan and meeting place, have fire extinguishers in the home.

For MFL MarMac elementary students, not only do they learn about this key information, but a series of hands-on activities and demonstrations by the Monona Volunteer Fire Department also helps them experience why fire safety is important and how firefighters protect the community.

To kick off the program for students in second grade and younger, firemen showed off their turnout gear. This demonstrated that, underneath the uniform, firefighters are still the men and women kids see every day in their communities.

Students also checked out the fire station kitchen, pointing out scenarios that were unsafe, like tinfoil in the microwave and pot holders left on the stove.

Next, students went to several stations. At one, they practiced spraying a fire hose. 

At another, firemen talked about the different fire trucks, and the equipment housed in each, including the Jaws of Life, a chainsaw, generator, traffic cones, tools and more. 

Outside, the kids watched as 2,000 gallons of water filled the department’s portable tank. One truck sucks up water and dumps it into the tank, explained fireman Jeremy Schellhorn.

“If you’re in the country, this is how we get water,” he told them.

The final station taught kids several lessons, including how to “stop, drop and roll” and to stay low to the ground when crawling through a building that is on fire. 

The last two years, the fire department has expanded upon what students have learned through second grade to create a more real-life scenario for third graders.

Last year, the firemen burned a miniature building that was meant to look like a house, showing how fire and smoke rise and quickly spread. They did the same activity this year, but took the demonstration a bit further—students went into a smoke-filled home themselves.

The house is located on property about a mile north of Monona. It’s not occupied, and the owner plans to build a new home in several years, so he allows the fire department to use it for training.

“We’ve had it all summer,” said fire chief Dave Smith, adding that firefighters have practiced everything from traversing through smoke to performing window rescues.

Having access to the home is a rare opportunity for the department, Smith said.

“It’s hard to find homes to train in,” he said, “especially one in this good of shape, where the floors aren’t falling in.”

For the activity, students got on their hands and knees and crawled along the ground-level floor, where the smoke was less heavy. Once they reached the exit, they ran across the yard to a designated meeting spot.

As they exited, students coughed and waved fresh air under their noses. Some shouted exclamations like “that was awesome,” while others admitted it was scary because they couldn’t easily see their classmates.

“And that was gray smoke,” noted Schellhorn. “When we do it, it’s black, and you can’t see anything.”

He recalled an eerie feeling while fighting one fire in Monona. Visibility was so low that he could hear the fire, but he couldn’t see it.

“We wanted to show you how smoke goes up,” said fireman Scott Goltz to the students. “Fire doubles in size every minute, so you only have a short time to get out.”

Schellhorn mentioned to students that the point of the activity was not to scare them, but to help them learn.

“Now you guys know why it’s important to crawl, so you can see where to go,” he said.

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