Should our first meeting with this age group go awry, a barrier will then be placed in the middle of the road for reaching out to these children in the future.
How many times have we been told by our parents, our employers or have even told our children, "You never get another chance to make a first impression, and a first impression is a lasting impression?" How many of us, through painful experience, have realized that in this case, our parents knew exactly what they were talking about, and have paid the price for failing to make that important first impression.
It is with this very spirit that the Beaufort Fire Department has created the "1st Impressions - Lasting Impression" program. This program is designed for, and targeted to, children of daycare and pre-kindergarten age, an age when children are beginning to form those valuable first impressions, not only on topics such as fire safety, but firefighters as a whole.
While we may think we are approachable and fun loving, to a small child, we can be quite intimidating. Should our first meeting with this age group go awry, a barrier will then be placed in the middle of the road for reaching out to these children in the future.
I learned this valuable lesson early, when bringing a daycare class out to our safety education house I ignored the look of fear and apprehension upon their faces. Thinking I could win them over with enthusiasm, I continued on. It started with just one child - he began to sniffle, then it spread to another, then another, and then it came - one child began to scream a scream of total horror and the chain reaction started. It was all over.
Returning to that class weeks later, it was apparent that I had in fact made an impression, as the children started to whimper again as I walked into the class, and they had to be reassured that it was OK.
We knew then we had to find a different approach. According to the NFPA's 2005 Characteristics of Home Fire Victims, children under five years old are 75% more likely to die in a house fire than the average person, so ignoring them and waiting until they reach elementary school just was not an option. We were determined to find a way to reach them.
We took a look at our overall goal for such a program. While education is always a goal, that would not be our focus. Introduction was the key! Introducing firefighters and safety education as a fun and exciting experience was the main goal, as well as slipping in a few tid-bits of education along the way, setting a strong foundation for them and their future safety education, as well as for the fire service.
Programs at this age group have to be quick, as attention spans will not allow for much time, and messages have to be presented (not spoken) in an interactive and enthusiastic way. The program would have to be constant and reinforcing, building upon itself with each lesson. We also wanted the program to be adaptive, so we could add future "all risk" injury prevention material into the program.
As we designed the program, we limited it to 30 minutes per lesson, which we thought, and have found, is just about right. Considering the capacity of the daycare, preschool child to retain information, we took a look at the important bullets we wanted this program to convey.
- Introduce firefighters, what we do, how to call 911, encourage fire stations as places to go for help, BASIC Exit Drills in the Home (E.D.I.T.H.) concepts and smoke detectors.
- Matches and lighters are big topics for this group. Teaching them to recognize them as tools, not toys, and what to do if they should see them lying around
- The "Friendly Firefighter," what we look and sound like in gear.
An important aspect to this program is parental involvement. At the end of each day, the child goes home with a one page colored flyer, highlighting what the child learned that day, and most importantly, what the parent can do to reinforce the material.