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The Mobile, AL, Fire-Rescue Department has a new firefighter on its team. He's short, green and his breath is a fire hazard. "Dusty the Spectacular Smoke Smeller" Dragon is Fire Educator Kent Landsberg's newest lifesaving tool. Together, Dusty and Firefighter Kent teach children the dangers of fire and make the safety information fun and easy to remember.
In his years of teaching fire safety to children, Landsberg has learned an important fact: children aren't interested in listening to an adult talk. But let a dragon puppet talk, and every eye in the room is glued to him. "If I tell them to get down and crawl, they ask why," said Landsberg. "If Dusty tells them to get down and crawl, they do."
Presentations last approximately 30 minutes and are divided into four parts. It begins with the teacher reading a short book on fire safety, then showing the video "Be Cool about Fire Safety" from Allstate Insurance. Next, the teacher re-reads the story while Landsberg acts it out with costumed props such as wigs, glasses, hats, a teddy bear and smoke alarm. Finally, Dusty the Dragon performs his six-minute show, then the students answer questions on what they learned.
One of the important lessons in Dusty's performance is smoke alarm sound recognition. Dusty tells the children when they hear that sound to get down low, crawl outside and stay outside. Landsberg explained that the only fire safety message many children know is "Stop, Drop and Roll." Without knowing they should leave the house, many children are placed in danger when a fire occurs. In the performance, Dusty shares five fire-survival skills in a non-threatening manner using repetition in sing-a-long songs: have a working fire alarm, get down low and crawl under the smoke, stay outside and have a designated meeting area. Dusty also explains why firefighters may look a little scary. "The firefighters wear helmets, boots, coats and masks for their protection against smoke and flame," says the dragon.
"The minute Dusty appears, children zoom in and absorb every detail of the fire safety message," said Landsberg. "They often even start to repeat the song and some children actually start to crawl on the floor when the song tells them to crawl low under smoke."
Landsberg began with the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department nearly 30 years ago, so fire safety is nothing new to him. Now as the department's life and fire safety educator, he works to educate the public on fire safety. He's done it with a Dalmatian, a cockatoo and now with Dusty, enchanting children with songs and fire safety tips. He's also paired it with the children's book No Dragons for Tea by Jean Pendziwol and Martine Gourbault, which he calls the best new fire survival training tool for fire educators. Landsberg worked to place a copy of the book in every public- and private-school library as well as all Mobile municipal libraries. With books in the Mobile County School System, the largest in Alabama, 40,000 children are exposed to this whimsical book on fire safety. No Dragons for Tea was awarded the Teachers' Choice Award in 2001 for the International Reading Association and in 1999 was named an Outstanding Book by the Parent Council.
"All the teachers just love the wonderful rhyming verses and beautifully illustrated pictures that allow a friendly dragon to teach fire survival skills without scaring the children," said Landsberg.
Landsberg averages one performance a day to 100 kids. Last year, he educated 16,000 Mobile-area children in some 300 performances. He targets kids from 3 years old to the third grade. He also shows the same material to senior citizen groups, asking if they want to see what the children are learning. And, as Landsberg said, the message is the same regardless of the audience.