VPSD firefighters give kids hands-on lessons

Faraday Williams, 6, a first-grader at The Villages Charter Elementary School Primary Center, sprays a fire hose with help from firefighter-EMT Josh Hayes of The Villages Public Safety Department during Fire Prevention Week.

Nothing gets a child’s attention faster than a big shiny fire truck and a fire hose full of water. As part of this year’s Fire Prevention Week, held Oct. 3-9, firefighters from The Villages Public Safety Department brought out their most impressive equipment to share the message of fire safety with children at The Villages Charter  Elementary School Primary Center and The Villages Early Childhood Center.  On Friday at the Primary Center, the department introduced the children to Fire Engine 40 and its crew, Fire Rescue Truck 41 and Sparky the dog. Lt. Noah Hartman showed the kids around Fire Engine 40 while sharing some fire safety tips.  “We’re showing them the fire truck and shooting the hoses to get them more familiar with it, so if they see it, they’re not scared,” Hartman said. “We want to show them that we’re friendly and if there ever is a fire, they know we’re good and we’re trying to help them out.”

Establishing relationships with the children can make all the difference in an emergency situation, said Kara Watts, division chief of EMS Training for The Villages Public Safety Department.

“I like the fact that we can communicate with the students on a one-to-one and more personal basis, because when we respond to an incident that a student or family member is involved with, it’s very hectic,” Watts said. “So, if we get a good relationship with them outside of an emergency situation, then they know that we’re not scary, we’re there to help and that we are real people underneath all the gear.”

The Villages Public Safety Department has put on this event at The Villages Charter School for many years, said Manisha Grant, Primary Center vice principal.

“I think that it is important for all of our students to be familiar with our community helpers,” Grant said. “We love The Villages fire department; they do such a great job of educating our kids because we want kids to know what to do in case an emergency arises. So, I think it’s really important.”

In 2019, 2,770 people died as a result of home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and fire departments responded to 339,500 house fires nationwide.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme is “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety” and the NFPA provided messaging and materials for teachers to use to educate their students.

The materials focus on teaching people, especially children, how to recognize the sounds of fire and carbon monoxide alarms.

A continuous loop of three loud beeps means smoke or fire.

“We go over if you hear that sound, to go outside and wait for your family member,” Watts said.

A single chirp every 30 to 60 seconds means the battery is low and needs to be changed, while chirping after a changed battery means the entire unit needs to be replaced, according to The Villages Public Safety Department.

The department also recommends reading the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific alarm or looking them up online to familiarize yourself with the sounds your alarm makes.

The Villages Public Safety Department offers free smoke and carbon monoxide detector battery replacement to Villages residents. Call 352-205-8280 to schedule your appointment.

 Sumter County Fire Rescue and EMS also provided several schools in the area with information to educate students and staff on fire safety.

In a normal year, the department spends the week visiting schools and hosting assemblies, bringing fire equipment and providing information on fire safety related to the week’s theme, Fire Chief Rob Hanson said.

This year, the firefighters aren’t physically visiting the schools because of COVID-19, Hanson said. Instead, they are providing teachers with the messaging and materials on fire safety so they can teach it to their students.

Sharing different activities students can do in the home, being aware of their surroundings, looking for places where fires could start and coming up with and practicing a fire exit plan all are tips Hanson recommends for fire safety at home and in schools.

Hanson believes it still is important to get messages about fire safety out in any way the department can.

“It takes everybody (to teach and practice fire safety) so if the kids know what to do, if they know how to recognize a fire, if they know what it sounds like and if we can help them to learn how to prevent them, then we can potentially save a life before us even getting there, just by (teaching) somebody early recognition (signs),” Hanson said.

Sumter County Fire and Rescue did host an in-person show-and-tell event at the Mini Milestone Children’s Academy in Oxford last week, where they brought a fire engine and went over fire safety tips.

Both The Villages Public Safety Department and Sumter County Fire and Rescue attended The Villages National Night Out event on Oct. 5 at Brownwood, where they were able to meet the public and share fire safety information.

More information on fire prevention and safety can be found online at firepreventionweek.org.

Staff writer Veronica Wernicke can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5307, or veronica.wernicke@thevillagesmedia.com.