Kenai Fire Marshal Jeremy Hamilton is seen by one of Kenai Fire Department’s Tower trucks on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 at Kenai Fire Department in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Fire Marshal Jeremy Hamilton is seen by one of Kenai Fire Department’s Tower trucks on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 at Kenai Fire Department in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Get up, get out and get safe’

Kids taught about fire safety as part of prevention effort

The Kenai Fire Department is spending October visiting schools and getting the word out about fire safety for Fire Prevention Week.

Fire Marshall Jeremy Hamilton said, officially, Fire Prevention Week is a week, but to visit all the local schools and complete all the programming the fire department has planned, it takes them the whole month.

The fire department uses its own curriculum, designed by Hamilton, for the messaging campaign, though he said that this year he’s also roping in some material designed by the National Fire Prevention Association. He said this is both to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week, and because he said this year’s material resonated well with his own messaging.

Hamilton said the main messaging from NFPA is “Fire won’t wait, plan your escape.”

Hamilton says his main message, one that he’s written in material circulated at KFD, is “get up, get out and get safe.”

In order, that means that — ahead of any emergency — residents need to be proactive about making sure their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly, they need to know at least two pathways out of the building from any room, and they need to designate a meeting place for everyone to gather.

A study by NFPA, cited in Hamilton’s lesson plan, says that a majority of home fire deaths and injuries happen while occupants are asleep. If detectors aren’t working — or not placed where they can be heard by sleeping occupants — they can’t protect them.

Hamilton said the old messaging was to check batteries, but modern batteries last a lot longer than they used to. Now, he said the best way to make sure is to test detectors every month.

When it comes to forming an escape plan, Hamilton said it’s important to make sure children understand how to work the locks on doors and windows. In the winter, especially, windows and doors may not open the way they usually do.

Having an escape plan and practicing it is important, Hamilton said, because “It gives you a goal, you know what to do. It’s not the first time you’ve ever done it.”

If an emergency is the first time a kid is trying to open a window or figure out a deadbolt, that’s a problem.

“You want to figure things out when your mind is clear,” Hamilton said.

Of particular concern is the meeting place. Having that goal, having a place for kids to go changes the dynamic.

“When you’re a little kid and you’re scared, you just run away from the thing that’s scary. But if you know where you’re supposed to go, you have a goal.”

Hamilton said there is a disparity between where kids regularly practice fire drills and where fires most frequently occur. Fires don’t often happen at school, but local students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District run a fire drill once a month. Fires and injuries from fires happen more frequently at home, but families rarely perform drills there.

Hamilton says he always gets questions about what to do in an emergency, and he always comes back to his message: “Get up, get out, get safe.”

The fire department will be running a variety of educational programs, based on grade level, all month.

For preschoolers, Hamilton said the programming is based on introducing kids to firefighters. A presentation — called “Firefighter Jeremy” — is designed to show young kids that a firefighter is there to help them, even when they’re covered in gear.

“Police officers, firefighters, we can be intimidating,” Hamilton said. Especially for a preschooler.

He said a big part of it is getting down — on hands and knees if necessary — on the kid’s level.

Ideally, “they realize, like, ‘O.K., it’s a kind of scary looking person with all of their stuff on, but it’s O.K.”

Hamilton said, these days, it’s not really Firefighter Jeremy anymore, but it is Firefighter Cory or Firefighter Omar.

Kindergarteners watch a video about stopping, dropping and rolling, then Hamilton says they will have a discussion about when to call 911.

He said in emergencies, people can forget to call 911. Someone needs to do it.

“Kids just assume we know there’s a fire,” Hamilton said. “We don’t know until somebody calls.”

Moving into the first and second grades, Hamilton said they start talking about creating fire escape plans, with the purpose of encouraging kids to go home and start the conversation with their parents.

Kids will hopefully “Go home and kind of nag the parents, like ‘hey, do we have working smoke detectors?’ or ‘hey, I noticed I don’t have a smoke detector in my room,” Hamilton said.

“A lot of parents aren’t even educated as to where those smoke detectors should be. A lot of them have them, but are they where they should be? Do they have enough of them?”

Third graders build on that messaging, and are encouraged to take home a home escape plan checklist and map. Hamilton said the kids are incentivized to complete it and bring it back, either to the classroom or to the fire station, where Hamilton or another firefighter will review it with them.

It’s about “actually bringing that piece home with them and saying ‘hey, we need to do this together,” Hamilton said. If it comes back, that means the student has gone through the steps and done the work.

He said they’ve gotten more of the sheets back each year.

Hamilton also said that he can tell whether or not the parents were involved. He described sending back some maps that are just a square and a triangle.

“I’ve had some tears, you know, like maybe embarrassed,” he said. “But I’ve also had a couple of those tears come back and show me what they actually did.”

Programming for students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades is based on fire science.

Hamilton said lots of these kids have already seen the programming a few times already, and that KFD noticed that they weren’t reaching those kids as much.

“I started having different conversations with them,” Hamilton said.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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