Training The Next Generation Of Fire Safety Educators

By now, all firefighters have surely seen the importance of teaching fire safety education to children - but where do firefighters who are actively teaching get their experience?

Many of us learned by being "thrown to the wolves" in front of a classroom full of children without any warning or preparation. In contrast, fire academy students at the Oakland Community College Fire Training Institute in Michigan get plenty of opportunity to learn, review resources and practice before going into a classroom of children. OCC's Fire Training Institute, in existence for more than a dozen years, is the largest provider of fire training in the state. Its training in fire safety education will help ensure a new generation of competent educators who can do program delivery.

Photo by Therese R. Rasnick
Students at the Oakland Community College Fire Training Institute in Michigan learn to teach fire safety to schoolchildren.

This program has also sparked an interest in fire safety education that may not be felt when all knowledge is gained through reading about the subject in a book, without practical application. The sheer delight on the children's faces when they see a firefighter in their classroom talking to them is motivation enough for many to continue to pursue and further their department's efforts in this worthwhile area.

After the fire academy, students received classroom instruction on fire safety education as outlined in Essentials of Firefighting and each platoon (consisting of five or six students) was assigned to a classroom of children at a local school. The class information was given to academy students so they knew in advance what grade level and the number of pupils they would be responsible for teaching. The platoons were given class time to further review the numerous resources on file at the fire academy, develop a lesson plan, design and/or duplicate any handout material they wished to use and practice their program delivery to the assigned audience with fire academy instructors providing feedback.

Resources kept at the fire academy for students to use in their presentations include the National Fire Protection Association's Learn Not To Burn curriculum and resource books (call the NFPA at 800-344-3555 for a catalog or to order); the International Fire Service Training Association's Fire and Life Safety Educator's Resource Kit (call IFSTA at 800-654-4055 for a catalog or to order), Tom Kiurski's Fire Safety Training book (presentation outlines for various programs, handout materials, public service announcements and ideas for larger events are included; write to him at 38060 Donald, Livonia, MI 48154 for information), the VHS videos "Be Cool About Fire Safety" (which can be ordered through Allstate insurance offices), "Plan To Get Out Alive" (available through Media Tech, 110 West Hubbard, Chicago, IL 60610) and the computer-animated "Stop, Drop and Roll" public service announcement (available through Creative Vision Animation, 26913 Southwestern, Redford, MI 48239).

During the fire academy classroom presentation that featured fire safety education, students were given basic instruction in teaching to an audience, and shown several tapes of firefighters giving a presentation for them to critique. Several exercises involving role-playing provided more practical application to the students.

Academy students were given time in the class about two weeks after the initial fire safety education presentation to meet again with their platoon to further hone their outline and presentation skills. The fire academy requires that all academy students present a portion of the classroom outline while in front of the class. The academy feels that this is important in getting some of the students over a "fear" of speaking in front of a group. Children are a forgiving audience, and a fire academy instructor is in every classroom should they be needed. Any handout material is reviewed for age-appropriate subject matter, spelling and grammar. Instructors suggest that platoons personalize any material made by group members to add to their portfolio.

Arrangements with the host school and municipal fire department serving that area have been in the works for months prior to the scheduled "school day." Scheduling classes and platoons takes time, and the "all-school fire drill" exercise is a highlight for everyone, from school children to academy students.

On "Fire Safety School Day," platoons are introduced to their classes by fire academy instructors and teachers. The lessons then begin, with 45 minutes scheduled for the program. Each classroom fire academy instructor makes notes for later review by the platoons.

At the end of the 45-minute presentations, a fire alarm is sounded throughout the school. Academy students were briefed about the drill, but told not to mention it during their presentation. After the sounding of the fire alarm, academy students are not to take charge of classroom evacuation. The teachers and class are to "help" their visitors out of the building.

To make matters worse, one end of the school is fully charged with dense smoke, making escape impossible out that end of the building. Schoolchildren must "think on their feet" and find their alternate escape. Choosing the exit in the opposite direction of the smoke, they safely escape to the outside air. Children are met with the sounds of fire engines. Arriving on the scene, firefighters in full turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) stretch hoselines and enter the building. The outside team of firefighters uses aerial towers to ladder the building and gain access to the roof.

Once the "all clear" is issued by firefighters to the school, the students are informed that the smoke they saw came from a smoke machine owned by the fire academy. It was set up to issue smoke while the fire safety presentations were in progress. Schoolchildren are complimented on their orderly evacuation under adverse conditions. Children are allowed to see the fire apparatus up close and hold fire hoses and nozzles before returning to their classrooms. Upon returning to their classrooms with fire academy platoons, academy students give schoolchildren more positive feedback on the evacuation, and explain the importance of knowing two ways out of every building, just in case one of them is blocked by fire or smoke.

Much planning and preparation on the part of fire academy staff and academy students goes into the fire safety education portion of the academy. The positive feedback from the school staff, students and academy students makes this a memorable experience for all. More important, the academy students are told that this is just the beginning of the impact they can have on the safety of their citizens - the challenge is keeping up that kind of dedication and commitment once the academy is complete. With our comprehensive safety education program, however, we feel they have been adequately prepared to face the challenges of educating the public they serve.

Tom Kiurski is a firefighter with the Livonia, MI, Fire & Rescue Department, where he has served for 12 of his 17 years in the fire service. He is an adjunct faculty member in Oakland Community College's Fire Training Institute.

Ron Deadman is a lieutenant in the Birmingham, MI, Fire Department, where he has served for 19 of his 22 years in the fire service. He is the assistant director of Oakland Community College's Fire Training Institute.

Nels Olsen is a firefighter/AEMT with the Pontiac, MI, Fire Department, where he has served for nine of his 13 years in the fire service. He is the coordinator of Oakland Community College's Fire Training Institute.