By Starrla Cray
MCLEOD, WRIGHT, CARVER COUNTIES, MN Ever since the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871, which killed more than 250 people, Fire Prevention Week has brought an annual reminder of the importance of fire safety.
This year, Fire Prevention Week is Sunday, Oct. 4 through Saturday, Oct. 10, with the theme, “Stay Fire Smart! Don’t Get Burned.” As local firefighters visit schools this week, the focus will be on burn awareness and prevention, as well as keeping homes safe from the leading causes of home fires.
In Winsted, firefighter Jim Condon and his wife, Kathy, have been teaching fire prevention for 20 years. Winsted Elementary School and Holy Trinity Elementary School participate in a coloring contest, and the winning posters are displayed in area businesses. Students also win prize money.
“We give out more than $400 in prize money every year,” Condon said, which is donated by businesses.
Lester Prairie Elementary School also has a coloring contest. The grand champion receives a toy fire truck, fire fighter Doug Minnick said.
To help kindergartners understand fire safety, Minnick said the department has a doll house displaying fire hazards.
“It shows all the different things that can cause a fire in a house,” he said.
Condon said he takes the children in Winsted out to see the fire truck.
“The kids get a thrill out of it, especially when they see the big engine,” he said. In Mayer, children from Zion Lutheran School ride in fire trucks, as well, Fire Chief Rod Maetzold said.
In Howard Lake, firefighter Glenn Hofer visits St. John’s preschool and St. James kindergarten and first grade classes. He talks about the difference between “good fires” and “bad fires.” The first graders even get to spray water with the fire hose, he said.
At many of the area schools, one firefighter will get dressed in full firefighter gear, complete with the mask.
“We want them to understand what we look like in our fire gear,” Hofer said.
“When we put everything on, they back away a little bit, but when we take off the mask and explain why we’re dressed that way, they’re usually OK,” Waverly Fire Chief Roger Karels said.
The Waverly Fire Department goes to Humphrey Elementary School in Waverly each year. The older children tour the fire hall, Karels said, while the younger ones see the fire truck at the school.
Glen Hulley of the Watertown Fire Department has been in charge of fire prevention for 15 years.
Third graders get to put out a real fire, which is lit in a small pan, he said. This helps them learn how to use a fire extinguisher. In fourth grade, students go to a “safety house” which is a trailer the fire department brings to the school.
“They have to point out the fire hazards,” Hulley said. Even though it’s called a safety house, “there’s nothing really safe about it,” he added.
Examples of hazards might include paper scattered by the fireplace, overloaded circuit breakers, a fire extinguisher behind the stove, handles of pots facing out, paper towel dispenser near the stove, and more.
When the children get to the bedroom of the house, the firefighters turn on a fog machine, to simulate smoke in a house. The children then have to go out using the fire escape.
Hulley also visits preschools and daycare centers in the area. Sometimes he shows them how a fire hydrant works, he said.
“Their eyes get as big as saucers,” he said.