Firefighters' school visits aim to take the fear out of rescue
Mock rescues at local elementary schools during Emergency Medical Services Week are designed to give children positive associations with rescue equipment and procedures

Thursday, May 22, 2003


Bonita Springs firefighters fastened 8-year-old Alex Showens onto a petite backboard and put a brace around his neck Wednesday at Bonita Springs' Elementary School.

But Alex was not scared or crying.

Bonita Springs firefighters Eric Madden, from left, Cesar Sanchez, Lt. Don Wilkinson and Jubert Calero demonstrate how they use a backboard on second-grader Trisha Picknell, 8, in front of her class at Bonita Springs Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters demonstrated their techniques and equipment in local schools in conjunction with National EMS Week. Lisa Krantz/Staff

Instead, he was laughing the exact response firefighters were hoping to get as they lifted the uninjured boy high above his classmates' heads and moved him up and down as if he were a seesaw.

"It felt like you're wrapped in a blanket," he said after firefighters freed him from the dozens of Velcro straps securing his body to the backboard.

The demonstration was just one in a series fire department officials have been doing at local elementary schools this week for Emergency Medical Services Week, a national event honoring emergency personnel and promoting safety issues in communities.

Firefighters hope children will associate positive images like a blanket with rescue equipment and procedures, so they don't panic if they ever encounter an emergency.

"They freak out, especially if they are not with their parents," Lt. Don Wilkinson said. "I think if they are exposed to it in a non-emergency situation ... it is going to help them."

A team of four firefighters and the district's public education specialist, Debbi Redfield, visited second- and fifth-grade classrooms at Spring Creek Elementary School on Monday and Tuesday, Bonita Springs Elementary School on Wednesday and will visit Gospel Baptist School and Bonita Springs Charter School today.

Every year during October's National Fire Prevention month, the Bonita Springs fire district visits every class from prekindergarten to sixth grade to teach students fire safety lessons. The topics vary from grade to grade.

Firefighters teach younger students the basics of calling 911 or turning off a smoke alarm, while they teach older students the hazards of playing with fire, Redfield said.

"What we really find is that their knowledge retained from year to year is pretty incredible," she said.

The fire department returns to the schools each year during Emergency Medical Services Week to build on the knowledge students already have retained.

This week the team also gave students lessons on how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation and let them practice their new skills on a pliable dummy.

The special dummy has a chest that inflates and a bone structure beneath the rubbery skin so students can pinpoint the exact place to compress the chest.

"It's made that way so students can feel the ribs," Redfield said. "It's more realistic."

At the back of Francine Drew's fifth-grade class, 11-year-old Ignacio Justiniano stretched his neck and adjusted his glasses to get a better view of firefighter Eric Madden demonstrating how to administer CPR.

Then Ignacio got a turn.

At first he and his classmates giggled at the prospect of pretending to resuscitate a rubber mannequin.

"They're dying," Drew shouted from her desk at the back of the room.

"You have to," Redfield told Ignacio. "You're the only one who knows how to do it."

The high-pressure scenario prompted Ignacio to get to work.

"I was, like, nervous," he said after completing the drill.

Yet he said he was glad he tried it, because he knows he won't be standing around if he finds someone who is not breathing.

"I'm going to do something," he said.