The curriculum for about half an hour last Thursday at Richmond Hill Primary School covered the basics of fire safety, including how to crawl under smoke and stop, drop and roll.
The instructors were firefighters with Bryan County Emergency Services and the Richmond Hill Fire Department, with a few puppets and some clowns thrown in the mix. Students received coloring books, fire helmets and a close-up look at two of RHFD’s fire engines.
So maybe the only question left unanswered afterward was: Who had more fun, the kids or the firefighters?
Kindergarten student Clayton West said he had a great time, and his teacher, Vikki Leahy, said so did the rest of her class, one of many to watch the presentation.
“They had a blast. The kids loved it and they learned a lot,” Leahy said. “We teach them about fire safety for an entire week, but they have such a great time when the firefighters come out. They put on such a fabulous show. It’s such a treat for the kids and for us.”
“Oh yeah, it’s great. We love it,” Richmond Hill Fire Department Sgt. David Williams said. “We look forward to doing this every year.”
Firefighters will do more outreach this month at schools, churches and senior centers to help spread the fire-prevention message as part of Fire Prevention Month.
In fact, not long after BCES firefighters David McCauley, Denise Youmans and Victoria Pape finished their puppet show last Thursday, they, Willis and Bryan County Fire Marshal, part-time magician and master of ceremonies Jason Blalock packed up the puppets and other gear and headed to Pembroke to give a similar presentation at Bryan County Elementary School along with the Pembroke Fire Department. Not far behind were the clowns, Firefighter Hammie and Firefighter FunnyFace — aka, volunteer firefighters Helen and Victoria Wheeler. Williams, Lt. Michelle Meacham and firefighter Michael Cooper stayed behind to teach kids fire safety.
Though geared for kids through song, jokes, magic and puppets, it’s a serious message. Not long ago, a fire at Plantation Apartments was determined to have been started by a kid playing either with matches or a lighter, authorities said.
“Basically, we’re trying to get them at a young age to appreciate fire, both the utility of it and the dangers of it,” Williams said.
Bryan County Emergency Services Deputy Chief Otis Willis said reports of house fires and fire injuries are down nationally and locally.
Though it’s fun, firefighters take the presentations seriously and put a great deal of effort into their stagecraft.
Volunteer firefighter Tim Stillwell of Pembroke built a puppet stage that not only looks a lot like a miniature fire-truck cab with working emergency equipment, it also was made to fit in the department’s trailer for towing.
Meanwhile, though the puppet show comes with a script and recorded dialogue, Willis said Blalock and the other firefighters adapted it for local audiences — and it resonates with kids. At Thursday’s presentation, Willis credited BCES Director Freddy Howell, who also serves as county fire chief, with working to get funding and donations to help county firefighters do more outreach. Howell recently was named the Association of Georgia Fire Chiefs’ Fire Chief of the Year at least in part because of his efforts to better educate the public on fire safety and prevention.
And they are considerable, whether at BCES, PFD or RHFD. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Richmond Hill City Council, Richmond Hill Fire Chief Ralph Catlett gave council members a list of what the RHFD had lined up for October with regard to fire prevention.
All but about a dozen days were booked up, with firefighters working everything from an event this weekend called “Eagles with Charlie” to the Richmond Hill Community Blood Drive on Tuesday — “fire personnel will provide spaghetti dinners for all donors plus blood-pressure checks, flu shots, car-seat checks, sign up for smoke detectors, fire truck displays and the bounce house,” read Catlett’s list. There’s also the upcoming Seafood Fest, taking kids on tours of fire stations, doing blood-pressure checks for seniors, setting up a bounce house at a day care and distributing candy on Halloween to kids in subdivisions.
Last Thursday night, BCES firefighters gave a presentation to the Special Needs Activities Program at South Bryan Recreation, and Willis said the county also is encouraging kids to color fire-prevention-themed pages sponsored by McDonald’s and The Ice Cream Stop and take them by both places to get free ice cream or french fries, depending on the location.
West, the kindergartner, was asked what he enjoyed and learned from last Thursday’s presentation.
“I learned to stop, drop and roll,” he said. “That means stop when there’s a fire, drop and then roll. And I learned to crawl under smoke, so you can get out easily.”