October 7, 2009


Dryden students learn lessons of fire safety

McLean firefighters give demonstrations to third-graders as part of National Fire Prevention Week


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
McLean firefighter Tim Patchen explains the types of equipment used during fire and rescue procedures Tuesday at a fire safety demonstration for Cassavant Elementary School students.

Staff Reporter

McLEAN — Thick smoke filled the air, spreading quickly and making it difficult to see, but 8-year-old Gabriella Cordary wasn’t scared — there was no real fire.
She and her third-grade classmates spent their Tuesday morning at the McLean Fire Department to learn about fire safety. The key piece of the demonstration was a custom-built 75-inch-tall “smoke house,” which used a machine to simulate how smoke can spread through a room as in a real fire.
“It wasn’t scary, it just smelled,” Cordary said after leaving the smoke house.
Her classmate Scott Day agreed.
“It was really smoky and I could barely see anything, but I was not nervous in there,” he said.
McLean Fire Chief Mike Totman built the smoke house last month to use in his department’s annual fire safety demonstrations. It was set up inside the fire station for the students to use.
National Fire Prevention Week runs this week, through Saturday, and has been held as an official weeklong event since 1992.
McLean firefighters told Cassavant Elementary School students the rights and wrongs of what to do in the event of a real emergency. Students watched a video that told them how to work with their families to plan a safe escape route if their homes catch fire, and saw firefighters demonstrate techniques including “stop, drop and roll.”
“The only job you have is to get outside because fire spreads really fast,” Assistant McLean Fire Chief Kristie Rice told the children.
Two of the children also used a disconnected phone to make a practice 911 call. Kitty Totman, a Cortland County 911 dispatcher, was in another room taking their calls.
She asked questions typical of 911 calls — getting the caller’s name, address and what the emergency was. If the child did not know the answer to a question, Totman would ask another.
After the demonstration, Totman said it is important for children to memorize their street address because dispatchers cannot always pinpoint where a 911 call came from.
This is especially true if the caller is using a cell phone, something many children have today, she said.
Keeping the children familiar with how 911 calls work is beneficial because it could help them be calm during a real emergency, she said.
There have been many cases across the nation of children as young as 5 calling emergency services when their parents have become ill or been injured.
“If and when something happens, it kicks in,” Totman said. “The kids were very calm and answered the questions appropriately.”
Most of the 16 students told the firefighters they had already practiced fire drills at home and have arranged meeting places outside. Students from the elementary school attend fire safety demonstrations at the McLean Fire Department each year.
Terri Siwula, a third-grade teacher at Cassavant Elementary School, praised her students for having some familiarity with safety. The school practices eight fire drills each year, she said, adding she has some fire-related activities in the classroom such as reading stories about firefighters.
Siwula said she enjoyed the way the firefighters present the material each year.
“I think they do an excellent job,” she said.
Other classes from the elementary school were scheduled to come for the hour-long demonstrations throughout Tuesday and into today.
The firefighters said they were impressed with the children’s’ enthusiasm.
“They definitely wanted to learn, that’s a good thing,” said volunteer firefighter Tim Patchen.
Mike Totman said the department has been holding fire safety demonstrations for about 25 years.
A similar fire safety demonstration has been scheduled by the Homer Fire Department and will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. It is open to the general public and will include a smoke room, kitchen fire demonstration and various fire prevention displays, according to Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish Jr.


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