South Walton firefighters teach kids about 'Sounds of Safety' during Fire Prevention Week

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Several local fire departments rolled up to area schools in fire engines this week for National Fire Prevention Week.

The South Walton Fire District pulled up to South Walton Academy on Tuesday, and some schools have come to them. Students from the Compass Rose Academy visited Station 2 on Wednesday to learn about fire safety.

The Fire District plans to visit 14 schools, stretching Fire Prevention Week throughout October. Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of Oct. 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which ignited Oct. 8, 1871, and caused devastating damage.

South Walton Fire District Probationary Firefighter Jason Morgan talks with students during National Fire Prevention Week. The SWFD plans to visit 14 schools during October to teach kids about fire safety.

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“We know that Fire Prevention Week is the first week of October, but we’ve kind of adopted the whole month as fire prevention because we have so many facilities in our area that we just can’t get them in one week,” SWFD Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez said.

Firefighters focus on teaching safety to students in pre-K, kindergarten and first and second grade. The topics range from when and how to dial 911 to making an escape plan and determining a meeting spot.

This year, the National Fire Protection Association focused its Fire Prevention Week campaign on learning the “Sounds of Safety” and knowing what to do when a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm sounds.

South Walton Fire District Fire Inspector Todd Bowser teaches students at South Walton Academy about fire alarms during National Fire Prevention Week. The SWFD plans to visit 14 schools in October to teach kids about fire safety.

“Learn the sounds of fire safety is an important message because children in particular, they’re very keen to what’s going on in their home,” Sanchez said. “So when they hear a smoke alarm, they know it’s an alarm, but if no one tells them what to do or how to react, then really what good is that alarm?”

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The SWFD performs many hands-on activities with the kids. Sanchez said firefighters demonstrate what a smoke alarm sounds like. They also teach the kids how to stay low to the ground and check doors with the back of their hands.

“Some of the things that we teach, they’re good for everybody, not just for children,” he said. “If there’s a fire, we teach them how to stay low and crawl. We would do that same thing for an adult.”

Sanchez said they try to make all of the activities fun for the kids to where “they’re learning and not even realizing they’re learning.” The students often become excited just seeing a big firetruck roll up outside their school, he said.

South Walton Fire District Fire Inspector Dexter Payton helps a student use a fire hose during National Fire Prevention Week.

Students also got to use the fire hose on a tanker and brush truck Wednesday. As the children return home with little, plastic firefighter helmets, Sanchez said he would encourage parents to have a discussion with them about what they learned.

“If you’re a parent, take them in and ask them what they learned because they actually may be able to teach you something, believe it or not,” he said. “Oftentimes, what we do is we tell the children ‘Mom and Dad are busy,' so you have to remind them that smoke alarms have to be tested once a month and changed twice a year.”

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To test an alarm, hold the test button until there is a loud beeping sound. If the alarm is making a chirping sound, that means it is time to replace the batteries. Once replaced, test the alarm to make sure it is installed correctly.

Sanchez said fire prevention is one of the most important “non-firefighting” activities that firefighters do. When there’s an emergency, people call the department and firefighters respond, but the last thing they want to hear is, "There's people inside."

Compass Rose Academy students visited South Walton Fire District Station 2 on Wednesday during National Fire Prevention Week.

“My job is to prevent fires from happening, and this is part of that process,” Sanchez said. “This is part of that community education that we feel is very important, because when you learn this as a child it just kind of stays with you.”

Most fire departments will install smoke alarms for free. Sanchez said the SWFD typically does that for seniors or for people who cannot afford them.

“They’re not the hard-wire type. These are just battery operated,” he said. “But something is better than nothing.”

To learn more, contact your local fire department or the SWFD at lifesafety@swfd.org. The SWFD also will answer any fire prevention questions sent to its email.

“I always tell everybody October is fire service Super Bowl,” Sanchez said. “This is our opportunity to tell people what we do and to prevent fires, because that’s what we want. We want to prevent fires and for environments to be safe, homes to be safe. And it all starts at home.”