Building a new generation of fire safety

Like fire fighting, fire prevention is something that gets into the blood. As fire fighters from two area companies gathered at the Mary J. Tanner Primary School Friday, fire fighters spanning two generations worked to spread the knowledge of how to be safe in a fire to kids.

Middle Granville Fire Chief Milt Dunbar said he felt especially proud to have two generations at this year’s Fire Safety Day.

For many years the Middle Granville department has been coming to the school reminding kids of everything from stop, drop, and roll practice fire drills at home but this year was special.

The point man on the project for many years has been Fred Rohde, in fact – for every year he has been in the department. Joining his father for the second time was recent Granville graduate Fred Rohde, VII.

Both said it is something they enjoy doing, in fact one of the two Freds was missing a class to conduct the safety training for kids from pre-kindergarten to second grade.

During the presentation Rohde said he talks to the kids about everything from having a family escape plan to what can start a fire and much more.

Those lessons sink in, he said, particularly when he sees the kids year after year as they move through the school system.

This allows him to continually go into greater detail.

“At the kindergarten level, there’s only so much you can do because their attention spans are so short,” he said.

Through years of experience he has learned to recognize signs he’s losing the kids and the program is punctuated with noisy and interesting events to keep them engaged, at least until everyone’s favorite part – squirting water from a real fire hose.

As Rohde speaks he takes the kids through how to ‘stop, drop and roll’ if they’re on fire; he demonstrates a smoke detector.

At the same time his son dons fire gear.

This shows the kids what a fully geared-up fire fighter can look and sound like.

That, he said, is key towards getting the kids to realize they don’t want to hide from firefighters when things are going wrong even if you can’t see their eyes and they’re breathing like Darth Vader.

Towering well over six feet, Rohde said even when trying to be friendly he could be a little intimidating to children that aren’t even four feet tall yet.

Showing them a friendly face before it goes under a hood, helmet and breathing mask helps the kids to realize that fire fighters aren’t scary people, they’re friends and neighbors.

“This is so the younger ones see us as people,” he said.

“A lot of the times they’re not necessarily hiding from us( during a fire), they’re hiding from the fire, but we want to teach them not to hide at all in fact we want them right next to the windows,” Rohde said.

The senior Rohde said he’s not ready to hang up his fire safety teaching hat yet, but he’s pleased to have his son following along in his footsteps, both in the department and in fire safety training.

Chief Dunbar said the Hooks came out to join them for the day as a continuation of an effort her started years ago.

Over the years of teaching kids about how to keep themselves safe should they have a fire at home, Dunbar said he began to notice that the students came from more than just Granville. Some had addresses in Hebron or Hampton as well.

That gave Dunbar an idea and so he began to reach out to the chief’s of other departments, like the Hooks.

“It’s so kids can see their neighbors or people from their home towns,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar said the Penrhyn Engine and Hose Company had been coming to the school for more than 20 years at this point to talk to the kids about fire safety.

Teachers said after the kids get a lesson in the gymnasium from Rohde and the other fire fighters, they go outside and get a tour of the equipment before getting to shoot the fire hose.

They then use games and activities to tie in to the experience to teach the kids vocabulary, emphasize the fire safety lessons and get them thinking about a home escape plan; something goes home from the school with every kid talking about fire safety in the home.

For students so young, teachers said they have been impressed by how well they paid attention and how well the fire fighters held that attention.

Dunbar said afterwards that all of the credit for the success of the day goes to Rohde, who organizes everything about the day.

“He’s the point man on this; he deserves all of the credit.”

Rohde said his favorite thing about doing the fire safety sessions was easy, the kids’ reactions and the fact that they remember even years later.

“That’s my reward, when they remember what you taught them,” he said.

Although no one had done any math to attempt to track the statistics, Rohde said he was convinced that this primary school effort helped to knock down the number of fires in the Granville area.

Rohde said that after years as a volunteer fire fighter he was completely convinced that the number of structure fires was down and that this program played a major role in the reduction.

With kids as young as four or five years old seeing the program, Rohde said he didn’t expect them to connect every dot the first time they see the program.

However, “Every little thing they pick up is a win for us,” Rohde said.


Fire Prevention Class 2011


Nine local firefighters volunteered their time to teach this annual lesson to the students at Mary J. Tanner Primary School:

From Penrhyn Engine and Hose Milt Dunbar, Fred Rohde VI, Fred Rohde VII, Frank Riegert and Marvin Hawk.

From Granville Hook & Ladder Dan McClenning, Greg McClenning, Stacey Duel-Myer and Scott Myer.