Fire Prevention Week: Start Small & Think Big

Mention "October" and you evoke thoughts of cool days, autumn leaves and Halloween. For firefighters, October also brings to mind Fire Prevention Week.

Photo courtesy of Livonia Fire & Rescue
As part of a fire department open house program, a firefighter shows a youngster how to use a hoseline to knock down a fire in a "flame house." A 1 1/2-inch hose with hydrant pressure is usually sufficient to dramatically emphasize how heavy a hoseline can be.

Many fire departments make an effort to educate the public in fire safety throughout the year; however, Fire Prevention Week is a major event for the fire service, with many businesses, service groups and the media providing additional support for fire safety activities. The fire department can take advantage of this by organizing an open house in conjunction with Fire Prevention Week.

For most people, dealing with the fire department involves a catastrophe a motor vehicle accident or a car or house fire. An open house lets them see the firefighters in a different, less stressful light. This article will address many issues to help you start, rejuvenate or enhance your efforts in this area. Customize and personalize these suggestions for whatever works best in your community. Start small, see how it goes, and keep a clipboard handy to jot down ideas on how it can get bigger and better next time.

Hoseline Usage

Did you ever try knocking over a target at a shooting gallery at the county fair? Even if you didn't win a prize, it was fun trying. Setting up a "shooting" gallery for the public, using a fire hose as the weapon, can be just as much fun...and everyone can be a winner.

A 1 1/2-inch hose with hydrant pressure is usually sufficient to dramatically emphasize how heavy a hoseline can be, and stream reach is impressive to non-firefighting citizens. With a "target" to hit, the user can feel a sense of accomplishment.

You will need a three-foot length of string, a beach ball and a traffic cone. Inflate the beach ball and attach one end of the string to the inflation valve. Cut the traffic cone about halfway to allow the beach ball to easily rest on it. Drill a small hole near the top of the cone and attach the other end of the string from the beach ball. Rest the beach ball on the cone, then invite visitors to test their skill at handling the fire hose.

This event requires two "helpers" one to assist with handling the hose, and one to replace the ball each time it's knocked off the cone.

Another option is to create a "flame house." While this costs a bit more, it's more impressive and doesn't require the same amount of personnel to staff.

For a simple flame house you will need three pieces of plywood (four-by-four-foot sheets work well) hinged together to form the front and two sides, then painted to look like a house. Cut and paint a smaller piece of plywood to took like a flame and hinge this to the top or side of your "house" so that it will lay down backwards when hit by a stream of water. Attach a 25-foot length of string or light line to the top of the "flame." Invite someone to handle the hose and knock down some flame. When the flame has been knocked down, merely pull on the line (which can be attached to the controlling firefighter's foot or wrist) to reset it.

Elaborate flame houses can be two story homes, sided, roofed and trimmed in a scaled-down version. The flame, or flames (one in each of several openings in the house) can be hinged on light tension so that the flame will fall under the hose pressure and automatically reset after just a few seconds.

Pet Fire Dog

A firefighter in a dalmatian suit can be a cute mascot that can provide numerous "photo opportunities" for visitors but dalmatian costumes are usually sized for children. Choose a different mascot of your own design. Whatever you decide, it should be a "fun by nature" mascot that will liven up the children. If possible, the mascot should relate to firefighting. In Livonia, we wanted to have a dalmatian for our mascot but didn't have a big budget. By locating handy people (usually not too hard to find in the fire station...and don't overlook the spouses) we were able to have the mascot we wanted.

Photo courtesy of Livonia Fire & Rescue
A contest to "Name the Pet Fire Dog" can attract attention to an open house. In this program, the winner received a Livonia Fire & Rescue Care Bear as a prize.

Use a football helmet for the underlying structure of the mask. Buy a small supply of fiberglass and chicken wiring. Use the chicken wiring to form a mold of the dalmatian head, including the snout, around the helmet. Leave it open at the bottom so the wearer can get his/her head through. Cover the form with several layers of fiberglass to give substance and smoothness to the whole head of your new mascot. Cut out holes for the eyes and nose. Fill the eyes and nose with dark screening, available at fabric stores. Purchase "dalmatian fur" at the fabric store as well to make ears and a covering for the head. Cut out eyes and the nose. Make gloves from the same dalmatian fabric so that no skin is showing when the mascot makes its appearance. Have the wearer put on a clean turnout coat, pants and boots. This project can be completed with less than $100 in materials.

If you choose to make your own dalmatian mascot, stage a "Name the Pet Fire Dog" contest. Make up computer sheets for each citizen's name, phone number and suggested name for the pet fire dog.

Vehicle Extrication

A definite crowd pleaser that involves little cost is the vehicle extrication demonstration. Ask a local towing company or auto salvage yard to donate and drop off a vehicle with minor damage the day before your event and pick it up the day after your open house.

You may or may not choose to use a mock "victim" in the car to be surveyed, collared and backboarded during your demo. Either way, the crowd will be pleased with the cutting of the vehicle posts and flipping back of the roof onto itself, creating the convertible effect of the car.

Using Extinguishers

Some hands-on learning can take place when you teach adults to properly use portable fire extinguishers. You may wish to check with members of your fire safety education division to see how they conduct this type of training during the year.

You'll need a barrel or receptacle in which to burn your demo fire, a fuel to burn and a few fire extinguishers to use. A 55-gallon drum cut one to two feet up from the bottom works well for us. Paper works well to start the fire but for easy restarts after they are extinguished consider using a small amount of flammable liquid.

Briefly describe the classes of fires while recommending Class ABC fire extinguishers for the home, since most homes have all three classes of fuel in them. Then explain the "PASS" method for extinguisher use:

  • Pull the locking pin or tape.
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the flames.
  • Squeeze the handles together.
  • Sweep from side to side at the base of the flames, ensuring that an exit remains to the back of the user at all times.

Have a backup plan in place, ready to implement if an emergency situation arises. This may mean a backup hoseline or a garden hose, as well as keeping a charged extinguisher in your possession at all times during the demonstration.

Apparatus Display

Fire apparatus, and lots of it, gives a breathtaking scene to people as they approach your open house. If possible, set up the ladders and towers to serve as a landmark to guests. Have several members willing to field questions and allow the guests to handle and explore several pieces of equipment in a safe manner.

Expect to be asked numerous questions about the apparatus. Make up an A-frame with a laminated sheet, introducing each piece of apparatus. Also include the "stats," such as year, make, model, price, pumping capabilities and any special equipment carried by it.

Check with your local contacts for the medical helicopter serving your area. Many of the companies will make special stops at fire department open houses but book them early. Also ask if any outside agencies that you deal with frequently have exhibits. Local hazardous materials response agencies, high-angle rescue teams, urban search and rescue teams, etc. may all be available.

Kitchen Fires

It's not necessary to actually have a kitchen fire to demonstrate how to extinguish one. Start with a pan and lid. Explain that small pan fires in the kitchen are common and there are many good actions that can be taken to keep that fire from spreading. The first and best action is to safely "put a lid on kitchen fires" by sliding the top over the pan, being sure to protect your hand and arm while doing so. Once the lid is covering the pan, turn off the burner. Explain that you have extinguished the flames by taking away the oxygen and by shutting off the heat.

Other good actions include the application of baking soda on top of the burning fuel or the use of a portable fire extinguisher rated for that class of fire (Class B).

The kitchen fire demonstration can be made to look better by having a stove available (it doesn't have to work). A local waste management company may deliver one to your door. Now, for no additional cost, you have added a realistic looking "prop" to your demonstration to give it the look of being in a real kitchen, confronted with a real fire.

"Stop, Drop And Roll"

Contact local schools or fitness centers to borrow gym mats to have children practice this important skill. Emphasize the need to practice the skill so that it will be an immediate reaction when the need arises. While the younger crowd is quite willing to indulge in this activity, try to persuade the older groups as well.

Another gym mat to practice the "crawl low under smoke" skill is helpful. Two open house workers can hold a blanket at waist level to simulate smoke. Children then crawl under the "smoke" and out to safety. Remind them to go straight to the nearest exit and never re-enter a smoke-filled building.

Prepare Handouts

Handouts not only pass along information to residents and their families, they're also a visual reminder of what was taught at the open house. Pre-printed brochures can be purchased or a computer publishing program can make personalized brochures. By having these available and handing them out to guests, visitors have the opportunity to look over the information they may have missed through the demonstrations, and can refresh themselves on key points.

Thomas E. Kiurski is a firefighter and the director of fire safety education for Livonia, MI, Fire & Rescue. He holds an associate's degree in fire science, a bachelor's degree in fire and safety engineering, and a master's degree in public administration.