Fifth-graders got to climb out the window of the Willimantic Smoke House during demonstrations held at Mansfield Middle School.
There was lots of laughter, and children were eager to ask questions and share stories – at the same time, some serious life-saving information made its way into the minds of 130 Mansfield Middle School fifth-graders at a fire-safety exercise held on Wednesday.
Students were introduced to the Willimantic Smoke House in the school parking lot – a tool used to teach children how to prevent some kinds of fires in the home, and how to get out of a smoke-filled room.
Inside, volunteer Mansfield EMT and firefighter-trainee James Fleckenstein talked about simple safety steps, such as making sure the handles of pots and pans don’t jut out from the stove, and keeping clothing away from burners when cooking.
A student volunteer was asked to make a 911 call (as if from a neighbor’s house) to report a fire. As his classmates listened, Marcus calmly answered the emergency dispatcher’s questions about the location of his house, whether anyone else was in the house, and other important information.
After, Marcus said it was “freaky” to talk to the dispatcher – who was actually Mansfield Firefighter-EMT Jim York in another room. “I just hope they don’t actually go to my house,” he added.
The “smoke house” exercise concluded with children – and parents who had come to enjoy the event – huddled in a bedroom where a smoke detector was set off by stage smoke that poured into the room. Children learned not to open a door that was hot, and instead climbed through a window with the help of Willimantic firefighters Alberto Torres and Mike McCrewell.
This was followed by a demonstration by Detective Roger Baxter with K-9 Officer Katie, a 9-year-old black Lab trained to help firefighters locate accelerants – such as gasoline – at the scene of a fire.
Baxter said Katie was trained using psychologist Pavlov’s famous experiments with conditioned reflex, to associate being fed with locating fire-causing chemicals.
This skill helps investigators determine whether a fire is arson or accident. “Everywhere Katie indicates she smells something, the materials are sent to a lab to find out what the accelerant is,” Baxter said.
After having Katie taken where she couldn’t see him, Baxter placed a small drop of gasoline behind one of the student’s chairs and at the base of a lamp post. Katie zeroed in on these spots in seconds and duly impressed the children, who rewarded her with petting and praise.
Firefighter Juan Sanchez then explained the value of a thermal-imaging camera. It helps firefighters find their way in a smoke-filled home and locate people or animals that might be trapped, he said.
“Even with a flashlight, a firefighter sometimes cannot see more than a foot – and I have never been in your house, so I don’t know where your couches are or where your bedrooms are,” said Sanchez.
He explained that different materials show up as different colors or a brighter white on the camera, making it easier to locate a human being or animal
Wednesday’s event was part of four days of activities that tie together science and math with fire safety, taught by 5th-grade Science Teachers Nora Dickinson and Judy Baxter.
“On day one, we talked about what creates a fire – fuel, oxygen and something that sparks it. We talked about the difference between uncontrolled fires – like the fires at Yellowstone Park – and how firefighters set controlled fires. And we talked about fires in the movies,” Dickinson said.
On day two, firefighters talked about the importance of a fire escape plan. Students brought that information home to work with their families to create their own plans.
Classroom discussions – about heat, light, friction and related science/math concepts -also prepared the children for Wednesday’s events.
On day four, children will learn about the dangers of scalding (which is tied in with information provided about the Shriners Burn Hospitals), and they will be invited to participate in a fire safety poster contest. Dickinson noted that for the last two years, Mansfield Middle School has gone to the regionals in this contest.
“Last year, we won for the region and one of our students went on to the state level.. she didn’t win the state [contest], but she was recognized at a banquet. So, we’re hoping for the big 3,” Dickinson said.
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