Teaching fire prevention to young kids saves lives

By Molly Roberts
Posted 10/13/21

Bunker pants, hoods, coats, tanks, masks — members of the Kalona Volunteer Fire Department put on their full array of firefighter gear in the parking lot of Mid-Prairie East Elementary on …

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Teaching fire prevention to young kids saves lives

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Bunker pants, hoods, coats, tanks, masks — members of the Kalona Volunteer Fire Department put on their full array of firefighter gear in the parking lot of Mid-Prairie East Elementary on Thursday, Oct. 7. It was Fire Prevention Week and fire chief Jerry Zahradnek said having the firefighters dress in their full gear is one of the most important aspects of the department’s education for the elementary school kids.

“You’re going to hear a lot of beeping and lot of rattling,” Zahradnek told the kids as the firefighters suited up. “It might sound scary, but that’s just the way the equipment works.”

The students whispered in awe among themselves as they heard the hissing breaths coming from the respirators — it was exciting, but also important.

“We have them get completely dressed in full SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) gear, so the kids can hear the breathing through the masks,” Zahradnek said. “Sometimes it can be scary to young kids, kindergarteners, first graders, second graders, but I want them to know that these are just everyday guys who are coming to help. We want the kids to know not to hide from them. And we want the kids to know that we’re coming and what it’s going to be like when we get there.”

When Zahradnek asked the students if they knew what to do if their clothes caught on fire, he was met with a chorus of “Stop, drop, and roll!” When Zahradnek asked who had smoke alarms in their homes, every hand went up. But when he asked how many of the students’ families had practiced their fire drills at home, there were less hands in the air.

“You want to make sure that you have a meeting place outside, far enough away from the house that you’re safe, maybe in the neighbor’s yard or by a tree,” Zahradnek told the kids. “You need a specific place to go so you can know that everybody is out of the house… practice your escape routes, practice your plans, practice getting out, practice going to that meeting place because when we roll up, our main concern is accountability, making sure that everybody is out of that building that’s on fire.”

The students were given a coloring book and Zahradnek said when they take them home to their parents, it’s a great time to talk as a family about their emergency plan and to make sure they’re as prepared as they can be in the case of a fire.

“Have Mom and Dad check your smoke alarms,” Zahradnek instructed the students. “Fire Prevention Week is a great time to remind everybody to put new batteries in them. Whether they’re hardwired electric or battery operated, they all have a battery and they all have to be changed.”

While seeing the firefighters and their trucks is exciting for the kids, Zahradnek said his presentations at school serve as an important reminder for parents, too, which is even more important now than when the parents were young.

“The more prevention we can do, the easier our job is,” he said. “These young kids are living in newer-built homes with more synthetics. Teaching them to have two ways out of their house, making sure their smoke detector batteries are changed, having a meeting place outside is even more important now. Fires burn hotter, they double in size faster today than they ever used to and it’s due to the building construction components and the synthetic materials that we use today that we didn’t use 50 years ago. Fire prevention, teaching this stuff, it saves lives.”

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