October 8, 2012

Wichita students get realistic lesson about fire

First-graders and kindergartners at Ortiz Elementary crawled low to avoid the smoke Monday before escaping through a window.

First-graders and kindergartners at Ortiz Elementary crawled low to avoid the smoke Monday before escaping through a window.

No, there really wasn’t a fire at their school.

But the children received a close-to-real look at what fire can do as the Wichita Fire Department unveiled its new Mobile Prevention Experience, a 40-foot trailer set up in the school’s parking lot.

In groups of about half a dozen, the children went through the trailer with firefighters to learn about some causes of fires. Like the lighter and cigarettes in a kitchen area. Or a towel draped on a stove burner.

They also learned what to do in case a fire started in the middle of the night while they were sleeping. To make it seem real, equipment puffed out non-toxic theatrical smoke as fire alarms beeped.

“We learned smoke is bad for your eyes, nose and mouth,” first-grader Mia Palomares said after she was helped out a window by a firefighter. “You have to crawl down on the floor because it has air.”

She and others also were taught to touch a door before going through it.

“If it’s hot, it means there’s fire (behind the door),” Mia said.

The unit was being unveiled as part of the annual fire prevention week. The $88,000 trailer was purchased with the use of a $70,000 federal grant and $18,000 in private money from Abercrombie Energy, a Wichita natural gas and oil company, fire prevention Chief Bob Thompson said.

A unique feature of the trailer is a room where a fire can be started and sets off a sprinkler system. People can stand outside the trailer and observe the process through large windows.

“We used to try to show kids 8 millimeter, 16 millimeter films,” Thompson said. “This is more sophisticated technology. It’s a show-me. We can talk about this every day, day in and day out. But when they go in and actually experience it first hand, that’s the key.”

The students didn’t get the trailer’s full treatment.

They didn’t participate in the experience that teaches what to do in case of severe weather. It includes a system that rattles window coverings and creates realistic sights and sounds of exploding lightning and an approaching tornado.

“It’s kind of scary for kids,” Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said.

After they went through the trailer, a firefighter reminded the children to go home and talk to their families about fire prevention and what to do in case of fire in their home.

All of Wichita’s eight fire fatalities in 2011 and the two this year occurred in single-family homes, Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said.

Kindergarten through fifth-grade students and senior citizens are the target groups for the unit. Smoking and cooking are the top two causes of fires involving senior citizens, Thompson said.

The mobile unit was displayed Monday evening at the South Branch YMCA. It will be at the Sedgwick County Zoo between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday and at the North Branch YMCA at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

Fifth-graders from area schools will attend Tuesday’s activities at the zoo. Besides the Mobile Prevention Experience, there will be rappelling and extraction demonstrations and other safety-related events.

In other fire prevention week activities, the fire department will conduct unannounced fire drills on Thursday morning at four private schools. A fire safety program will be presented at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Linwood Senior Center.

Firefighters will go door to door on Friday at apartment complexes to talk to residents about fire prevention.

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