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News | Oct. 12, 2010

Local children get fired up for fire safety

By Capt. John Stamm Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Fire sirens blared, water cannons blasted gallons of H2O, and children crawled to safety amidst the smoke and confusion. Fortunately for all involved at the scene here, there was no fire and no danger.

The event was the highlight of National Fire Prevention Week, as 216 elementary students and 21 fire inspectors, all from Comayagua, were treated to a two-hour demonstration and fire-prevention lesson from the 612th Air Base Squadron fire department Wednesday, Oct. 6.

Senior Master Sgt. James Hazelip, the base fire chief, said Fire Prevention Week is an annual event in the United States that focuses on promoting fire safety and prevention all year long. This event has now been instituted here to teach local children how to react in the event of a fire.

"We're teaching them about smoke detectors and fire prevention measures, as well as what to do in an emergency, like how to stop, drop, and roll and all the techniques we teach in the States," he said. "These activities are designed to teach them how not to panic and how to crawl to safety. They don't have that instruction here, so we're starting now and progressing."

Haniel, a seven-year-old first-grade student at Enlaces Elementary School in Comayagua, was one of the many local students in attendance. While she enjoyed the antics of Sparky the National Fire Protection Association mascot, and the fire engines, her favorite part was the water cannon.

"It was fun," Haniel said, "but I wanted to get splashed."

Fun is the key ingredient in the learning process said Mr. Herberth Gaekel, a civilian fire inspector here and recipient of the Air Combat Command 2010 Civilian Fire Fighter of the Year Award.

"We all must remember that when kids are having fun they learn more and remember more," Mr. Gaekel said. "These kids also look up to us as heroes and protectors. They sometimes don't have proper direction, and this is a good experience for them."

Mr. Gaekel also explained that the event was not only for the kids, but for the civilian fire inspectors and teachers in attendance.

"A lot of this is passing information to the public and those in positions of responsibility," he said. "These inspectors and teachers supervise these children. They must learn how children will react to a fire in order to control the situation. They must also know how important it is to prevent fires so they won't have to put them out."

According to fire department officials, many potential fire hazards go undetected because people simply do not take steps to fireproof their homes. Statistics show most bedroom fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, careless use of candles, smoking in bed, and children playing with matches and lighters.

The fire department offers this list of guidelines to help prevent fires:

· Install and maintain a working smoke alarm outside of every sleep area and remember to change the battery at least once a year.

· Designate two escape routes from each bedroom and practice them regularly.

· Teach everyone the "Stop, Drop, and Roll" technique in case clothing catches on fire.
· Avoid storing old mattresses in the home or garage.

· Teach kids that matches, lighters and candles are tools, not toys. If you suspect that a child is playing with fire, check under beds and in closets for telltale signs like burned matches. Matches and lighters should be stored in a secure drawer or cabinet.

Most potential hazards can be addressed with a little common sense. For example, keep flammable items like bedding, clothes and curtains at least three feet away from portable heaters or lit candles, and never smoke in bed. Also, items like appliances or electric blankets should not be operated if they have frayed power cords, and electrical outlets should never be overloaded.

For more information on National Fire Prevention Week, click here.