MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Firefighters from the Air Station Structural Fire and Emergency Services Department teamed up with firefighters from Beaufort City Fire and Rescue during the 84th annual Fire Prevention Week Oct. 8-14.
This year’s theme is "Prevent Cooking Fires: Watch What You Heat," according to Joseph Otterbine, a fire prevention inspector here.
"Cooking fires are the number one cause of fires in the United States with nearly 80 percent of all fires being attributed to unattended cooking," said Otterbine.
The key to Fire Prevention Week is the children, according to Steven Womack, a fire prevention inspector here. The firefighters visited the three Laurel Bay elementary schools as well as the Child Development Center, teaching students and teachers what to do in the event of a fire.
"Just seeing the excitement in their faces as they are getting hands-on learning about what to do when a smoke alarm goes off, when smoke comes through a door, or when they see a fire on the stove, is just great," Womack said.
Many of these "hands-on" experiences are being taught using the mobile firehouse, made possible by Dan Byrne, the Beaufort fire department’s public information and safety officer, according to Otterbine. The mobile trailer resembles the inside of a house, allowing the firefighters to teach students an interactive lesson on fire safety and prevention, including how to properly react in a smoke-filled room and exit safely.
"They taught us not to panic if there is a fire, to get on the ground under the smoke and to sleep with the door closed so smoke doesn't get in as much," said Katrina Boyd, a fourth-grade student at Bolden Elementary School. "The coolest thing was learning to throw the lid on the pan to try to put the fire out and to tell our parents to stop if we see them leave stuff cooking."
Aside from fire prevention, it is very important for the children to learn not to fear the firefighters, according to Otterbine.
"If ever there is a fire the last thing that we want, is for a child to hide from us," Womack said. “Firefighters may seem scary to children during an emergency situation. We wear big heavy suits, they can’t see our face because of the masks and the sound of us breathing from our air pack is like something out of a scary movie.”
The children take home to their parents what they have learned at school, according to Otterbine. All of the children are given grab bags and plastic firefighter hats to show their parents.
"We get a very positive response from the parents and the teachers,” Otterbine said. "One of us will be somewhere around town and a student will walk up to us saying, 'I remember you, you taught me what to do in a fire,' and then the parents will tell us what a helpful thing we are doing and ways they have improved their family fire safety plans."
One program always stressed is EDITH, or Exit Drills In The Home, which involves interaction between parents and children in establishing a meeting place and going through the drills when the fire alarm goes off.
Case in point, the Structural Fire Department actually responded to a kitchen fire due to unattended cooking in a Tri-Command residence during Fire Prevention Week. Thankfully, no one was hurt, according to Otterbine.
“The residents of the home were lucky, but the fire could have been easily prevented by turning the stove off when leaving the room,” Otterbine said. “This simple exercise of judgment could have prevented the fire altogether.”
For more information about Fire Prevention Week or fire safety in and outside of the home contact the Structural Fire Dept. at 228-7854 or Byrne at the Beaufort fire department, 525-7055.