A Visit with Fire and Life Safety Educator, Michael McLeieer from the Merrimac (MA) Fire Department

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 April 2007, Scott D. Maker and I became handlers of Jake and added him to our non-profit public charity, E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc. (Education Showing Children and Adults Procedures for Evacuations). 
As Jake’s primary handler and trainer, Scott spends two hours each day teaching Jake how to act out
messages such as "crawl low under smoke", "get out and stay out", and "stop, drop and roll."  Jake  teaches children about fire and life safety in both the Great Lakes and New England regions including Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Our goal of teaching children in these regions is to be proactive rather than reactive. We work with area fire departments and go into schools and daycare centers, utilizing our own customized age appropriate lesson plans, to teach and reinforce these positive messages. Jake is just one way to teach those messages, but his presence has helped the educational community to welcome the program with open arms. 
In the winter months, the lessons include ice and cold water safety, such as never venturing onto thin ice. In the spring, students learn about topics like bicycle helmet safety and stranger danger. Jake is also used to teach children never to go up to a strange animal without adult supervision. 
Jake has learned to demonstrate making the "right choice", such as not hiding under a bed if there is fire or smoke conditions (applicable for younger children) and not using tobacco products that could result in fires (for older children). 
Jake will be able to work as a service dog until he is 10 to 12 years old, when typical hip and joint problems will likely interfere with his demonstrations. 
We will continue to utilize Jake in assisting to deliver our fire and life safety and juvenile firesetter intervention programs, including reaching out to audiences with disabilities, such as autism and hearing impairments. Jake has even learned sign language commands so he is able to reach out to more target groups. 
In addition, Jake demonstrates the following messages:
  • Fall and crawl under smoke
  • Get out and stay out
  • Whisper (inside voice vs. outside voice)
  • How to be a helper
  • How to stretch before exercising
  • Know two ways out
  • Stop, drop and roll
  • What is a tool and what is a toy
  • Waive to his audiences on command
  • Sit, speak, whisper, and stay - following sign language commands
What tips or resources can you provide for fire and life safety educators that have limited or no budgets? 
Start building rapport within your community. Visit the service clubs (i.e. Rotary, Moose, Elks, Mason, etc.) and partner with your local banker, local big box stores, anyone and everyone where you can convince them that their investment is necessary to keeping the community safe. Apply for grants. There are a lot of them out there, but anything worth while takes WORK. Don't be afraid to work to spread the word about your department's financial needs. Utilize the media to help get the word out to the community.
If you could share one tip with a fire safety educator just getting their feet wet in fire safety education, what would it be? 
Partner with another seasoned Fire and Life Safety Educator. Learn from peers to avoid making the same mistakes many of us did when we first started out. Make sure the subject matter is familiar to the educator (don't shoot from the hip) and reach out to School Educators or take an early childhood development class...go where the teachers go to learn...a community college.

What are some of your favorite fire safety related sites on the web? 
Rescue 1 Fire Safety for Kids. Jeff Steere is the President and a career firefighter with the City of Grand Rapids Michigan Fire Department. Jeff and I have become friends and have teamed up together with our two non-profit charities to reach out to more communities and mentor more fire departments within Michigan and across the country.  In fact, our two charities where just recently nominated for the second year in a row as a semi-finalist for the 2010 Connecting with Community Award in Michigan.  The award ceremony will be held on May 13th 2010 at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids Michigan.

Where do you see fire safety education in ten years?