DECATUR -- The number of lives lost in fires over the last 20 years prompted one American president to set aside a week to teach fire safety for all residents in this great nation and one local elementary school played host to the town's heroes that work every day to keep people safe.
The Decatur Fire Department was on hand in the front parking area of Northside Elementary School in Decatur on Oct. 1 to kick off National Fire Safety Week, which ran from Oct. 3 through 9. The event is sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association.
"Since 1922, the NFPA has sponsored the public observance of Fire Prevention Week. In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week a national observance, making it the longest-running public health observance in our country. During Fire Prevention Week, children, adults and teachers learn how to stay safe in case of a fire. Firefighters provide lifesaving public education in an effort to drastically decrease casualties caused by fires.
"Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of Oct. 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began on Oct. 8, 1871, and caused devastating damage. This horrific conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres of land" (www.nfpa.org).
Brent Hopkins, assistant fire chief, and firefighters Michael Harris and Tanner Parker were on hand to explain the workings of the two Decatur units, Rescue 2451 and Pumper 2412.
Because of the pandemic and weather conditions, the LifeFlight helicopter and the ladder trucks from Gentry and Centerton were not able to attend this year.
Each class had a chance to check out both of the Decatur Fire Department's main units.
Parker, dressed in his nearly 50 pounds of protective gear, instructed the kids in what to do should they become trapped in a smoke-filled or burning building, including how to respond when firefighters search the structures for occupants.
"When a firefighter comes into the room, here is how you need to respond," explained Parker. " I will call out and you respond the way I just taught you."
"Decatur Fire Department, is there anyone in the building? Please shout out," Parker yelled out through his face mask and breathing apparatus.
"I'm in here, I'm in here." the kids responded as loud as they could.
After Parker's demonstration, the kids, one of the fourth-grade classes, moved on to a tour of Rescue 2451. Michael Harris showed the kids what each compartment on the truck holds and its use including the Jaws of Life which is the tool rescuers use to cut victims out of a severely damaged vehicle.
Then it was on to Brent Hopkins who, with the help of Parker, explained the use of Pumper 2412. After a brief tour of the unit, Hopkins grabbed a two-inch fire hose with an adjustable nozzle on the end and demonstrated the various nozzle settings from a steady jet to a mist. These different settings are used to fight specific types of structure fires and wildfires. Of course, the star of the day was Hopkins' demonstration with a live fire hose.
It is hoped that by educating not only the kids in the community but adults as well that, by knowing what to do if a fire breaks out in a home, the occupants will know how to escape. Homes, businesses and property can be replaced but lives cannot. Firefighters urge families to have an emergency plan in place and practice that plan on a periodic basis.