One of the ways that I enjoy expanding my knowledge is to visit with other educators from across the country and learn about their fire safety programming.
In the fire safety education arena, there is always room to expand our knowledge, which in turn, can help keep our programming from getting “stale.” This knowledge provides ways in which we can reach more of our target audience with the fire safety message, and as a result, help keep those in our community safe.
Fifteen year veteran Firefighter Michael McLeieer, Fire and Life Safety Educator from the Merrimac (MA) Fire Department, feels the same way, as do many of the educators out in the field. Michael professes, “I'm still learning as to what works and improving upon what doesn't work.”
I met Michael at the National Fire Academy a couple of years while taking a Juvenile Intervention Specialist course, and was fascinated with his innovation in fire safety education. I recently visited with Michael, and below, you will find his story.
Michael, tell us about yourself and how you got started in fire safety education.
This is my 15th anniversary in the fire service. I was approached by a friend of mine, who was a firefighter; 15 years ago about how many children needlessly die in house fires. He explained to me that children often hide from the smoke and fire when they are scared and don't know what to do. When I went with this Fire Lieutenant to school presentations, I was amazed when he asked the students "What do you do when your house catches fire?" they would respond with "Stop, Drop and Roll". Children we encountered were not "getting" the real fire safety message.
It was at that time that we started a non-profit charity called E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc. (Education Showing Children and Adults Procedures for Evacuations) and built a 27-foot fire safety trailer to use as an interactive educational tool and to mentor and assist fire departments across Michigan in delivering fire and life safety education. I started in the fire service in Michigan in 1995 and in 2000, accepted my current position of Director of Public Education for the Merrimac (MA) Fire Dept. To date E.S.C.A.P.E. has educated over 500,000 children and adults in fire safety and have had 32 documented educational "saves". In my roll as Public Education Officer for Merrimac Fire, we have had four documented “Young Heroes” from 2004 - 2007.
Have there been educators that you have looked up to throughout your career?
I have had fire department training officers or fire academy instructors who I have looked up to as mentors to me.
How did they influence you?
They reminded me to always excel and strive for excellence. They encouraged me to be flexible, yet consistent in the educational approach.
Please share with us what resources you utilize in your programming and why you find these resources useful.
A combination of N.F.P.A., The Idea Bank, Sydistar, Disney Productions, and ideas obtained from various training conferences over the past 15 years. I'm still learning as to what works and improving upon what doesn't work.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a fire safety educator?
Funding, or the lack of consistent funding. With the ups and downs of the economy, we must continue to reach out to our community and other funding partners to meet our goals and objectives of providing quality fire and life safety educational programs.
You have a successful program with your canine, Jake. Please tell us more about the project.
Jake the fire dog, a black Labrador retriever service canine, is the first service canine to be used exclusively to teach children about fire and life safety. As an English version of the black lab, Jake is more refined and low-key with children than some other breeds. He has his own photo identification, is licensed as a working service animal, and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and ADA as a working service canine, with his sole purpose being public education, since dogs could be used as agents of terrorism.