ATHENS – A 100% success rate over a span of twenty years. If only the politicians in Washington could boast such a record.
But that’s just what fire officials at the Athens Volunteer Fire Department can claim with their annual Fire Prevention Day program, which has helped ensure that not a single fire has been set in Athens by a youngster in more than two decades.
“It works,” Fire Prevention Chairman John Greco said of the program. “We haven’t had a juvenile fire setter in 22 years. We are in the top 1% in the nation. Very few fire departments can say that.”
Last Thursday they continued their winning ways with the annual Fire Prevention Day, which brings students from E.J. Arthur Elementary School to the firehouse for education, demonstrations, and awareness.
And then, they encourage them to spread the word.
“We train the kids to train other people,” Greco said. “We give them some education so they can go home and teach their little sister or brother, or even their parents.”
Youngsters first visit with Greco and his team of volunteers who explain some of the dangers fire can pose, and the ways they can avoid them. This year, the nationwide theme is preventing kitchen fires, so emphasis is placed on not touching hot stoves, not playing with matches, asking an adult to help them with cooking, and so on.
And then it’s off to the demonstration areas, where kids get to go into a smoke house – with the “smoke” disabled this year because of asthma concerns – where they learn how to get out safely in the event of a fire, they watch a simulation of a water rescue, and talk with EMTs from the Town of Catskill Ambulance Service.
Perhaps most dramatically, they watch a team of firefighters demonstrate how the Jaws of Life work as they cut open a vehicle to show what would be done if the kids are ever in an accident on the road.
Most importantly, the message is to stay safe, and if the worst occurs and they are in a fire, to not be afraid of firefighters. The latter message is conveyed through a demonstration of what a firefighter in full turnout gear looks – and sounds – like. That’s because to a young child, all the equipment, including the noisy regulators that sound like the fictional Darth Vader, can be scary.
“It really spooks people out when they hear that noise, and it’s hard for them to understand that these people are here to help them,” Greco said. “The big thing we tell them is to not hide from a firefighter - they are there to help you.”
Second grade teacher Cate Collier watched alongside her students – many of whom were gasping in delight – as the Jaws of Life made quick work of a demolished car.
“We want them to have a chance to feel comfortable in an emergency situation and know what to do in order to be safe,” Collier said. “We are very grateful for the firefighters – they are giving all the kids carbon monoxide detectors, the whole school is getting them from the fire department. We are very appreciative to the fire department for doing this program every year.”
The day was a team effort, utilizing volunteers and resources from the Town of Catskill Ambulance Service and the West Athens-Lime Street Fire Department, as well as the Athens Volunteer Fire Department.
“The success of the program is due to the dedicated people and programs in this county,” Greco said. “We are fortunate – you reap what you sow.”
This year, a total of 261 children participated in the program, from both E.J. Arthur Elementary School as well as the Animal Crackers pre-school program.
One day, the tools and knowledge the kids take away from the program could turn out to be a lifesaver.
“We want the kids to be able to remember this information if they are ever in an unfortunate experience in their own lives,” fourth grade teacher Tiffany Pieruzzo said, “and to be safe always.”