A debate buzzing around the fire prevention community concerns the use of live fire during fire safety training for children. There are two camps: one that argues live fire can be used effectively and those who argue it is inappropriate. While the arguments rage back and forth, what is...
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One valid argument against the use of live fire in educating children is that it encourages the impression that fire can be controlled and is "fun." But are we being naïve? The findings outlined by the NFPA, USFA and Burn Institute indicate that fire is already in the lives of children — from the way fire is portrayed in movies and on TV shows to scout camp fires with marshmallows and hotdogs, fire is a constant in the lives of children and in a manner synonymous with fun, safety and controllability. So are we really to believe that the use of live fire by fire professionals in a prevention demonstration would lead to even more children playing with fire? Couldn't we — as recognized experts in the field of fire and with our knowledge of ignition temperatures, BTUs, flashover, toxic gases, conduction, radiation, convection, etc. — reintroduce fire to children in a manner counter to what they already see and teach them the truth about fire in a positive and constructive way?
Another argument against the use of live fire is that children should just be told to run away from fire and that to teach them to take any action would put them in more danger. It is a fact that children today are much more technology driven than they were in the 1970s. They play video games like Wii in which a computer senses body movements and translates them into motions of characters on the screen. They can master a multi-button controller using numerous action codes while never taking their eyes off the video screen. So are we really to assume that they cannot master the cognitive skills needed to operate a fire extinguisher? To comprehend the motor skills we as firefighters need to survive a fire? Are we underestimating their ability to learn and overestimating the effects fire can have in that learning process?
The fact remains that the decline in fires we once enjoyed has largely stopped. Fire use and fire play by children are serious problems and with more latchkey children being left at home and placed at risk, we can safely forecast these problems can only worsen. Add to this the belief among children that they are invincible and it is apparent that we simply must change our approach to fire prevention when the statistics clearly point to unaddressed problems.
Again, and I cannot stress this enough, I am not advocating the use of live fire in the education of children at this time. I believe that should it ever be used, just as when using puppets and clowns, it should be used by people who are trained to do so to ensure that it is being done correctly to maximize its educational value and not just be entertainment. But I do support the exploration and the further study of this issue. Facts and statistics clearly show that what we are doing now is not succeeding.
Does the idea of using live fire in the education of children sound crazy to some of you? I am sure it does. But at one time so did gasoline-powered fire apparatus, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and bunker pants, to name a few. Many lives — both civilian and firefighter — would have been lost had these "crazy ideas" not been explored and researched. So maybe for prevention, it's time to start "fighting fire with fire."
DANIEL BYRNE is a firefighter/paramedic and the community support officer for the Burton, SC, Fire District and a paramedic for Beaufort County EMS. He is a National Fire Academy alumnus and has been conducting fire service public relations programs for over 15 years. Byrne holds associate of science and bachelor of science degrees in fire science and is a Fire Instructor II. He has received state and local awards for educational programs and partnerships. Byrne is a former U.S. Marine Corps recruiter now serving with the Georgia Air National Guard Fire Protection Division. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.