By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
“If you can hear me, clap once!” Juan Williams, Fire Inspector for Madison Fire Rescue called out to the children gathered in the gym at Madison County Central School. They had come out to hear a presentation on fire safety from the members of the Madison Rescue Team, and of course, see Sparky the Fire Dog and get a close-up look at two of the department’s fire engines parked just outside the gym.
It was Fire Prevention Week, and the Madison Fire Rescue Team had come out to the school Friday, Oct. 14, to talk to the children about fire safety, fire prevention, and what to do should they ever be caught inside a burning building.
The presentation had taken on a special urgency because of a recent tragedy in Valdosta, where three young children had died in a fire.
Williams’ commanding presence kept the children focused on the subject at hand, and whenever the noise level rose in the cavernous, echoing gym, his commands of “if you can hear me clap once!” brought it back down again.
“What are the three most important numbers in an emergency?” he asked the crowd.
“9-1-1!” They yelled back.
“What do you need to tell the 9-1-1 operator?” When the answers were hesitant, he told them this was important because it was the only way Fire Rescue could find them.
Know your address and telephone number, he emphasized. When you go home today have your parents drill you on your address and phone number.
Every room in a house, at least on the first floor, has two exits, he told them; the door and the window.
Do you know how to open your window and work the screen so you can get out if you can’t use the door? Have your parents ever shown you how to do this?
Does your family have a meeting place? Do you know where everyone is supposed to gather once they get out of the house so your parents will know everyone is safe?
This was another thing they should speak with their parents about when they got home, he told them.
What if you can’t get out of a burning building?
Most people who die in fires die from smoke inhalation. What does smoke do, he asked the children. It rises, they answered.
What do you do? Go low and crawl under the smoke.
If you’re in a second floor room and can’t go out the window, he told them, you can still open it to breathe and yell, so the fire rescue team on the ground will know where you are.
Who do you do if your clothing catches on fire? Do not panic and run. Stop. Drop. And Roll.
Stop, because running fans the flames and is the worst thing you can do. Drop to the ground as quickly as possible and cover your eyes. Roll over and over again to smother the flames.
Three or four children quickly volunteered to demonstrate the technique on the gym floor.
Finally, two members of the Madison Fire Rescue donned their firefighting equipment, including the thickly insulated fire-protection suits, breathing masks, oxygen tanks and hats. With the tanks turned on, the team members’ breathing sounded like Darth Vader.
“This is what we look like when we go into a burning building. We might look like monsters or aliens, but we’re there to help you,” Williams said, adding that it was extremely important that the children NOT hide under a bed or in a closet, but stay out in the open where they could be found and taken to safety.
Finally, it was time for the treat all the children had been waiting for; Sparky the six-foot tall Fire Dog trotted into the gym to a round of cheering and waving,
A few moments later, as the children filed out of the gym to see the two fire rescue trucks parked outside, most of them stopped by the door where Sparky waited for them, to give them a big hug and a high-five.
Then it was time for the biggest treat of all – a chance to see up close the two fire engines the men had brought, including the new 75-foot aerial truck that makes Madison’s arsenal of fire-fighting equipment state-of-the-art.
There was Sparky the Fire Dog and not one, but two fire trucks, all in the same day. Fire Prevention and Safety has never been cooler.