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Practicing more than stop, drop and roll

Students crawl through obstacle course in fire safety lesson

Staff writer

A fire alarm goes off at night — what do you do?

Run to the nearest exit? No. Grab pets or video games? Neither.

Firefighters taught students at Marion Elementary School how to escape a fire safely — among other fire prevention tips — Oct. 11 as part of National Fire Prevention Week.

Students sat through an informational video before having a chance at a more active learning experience: an obstacle course.

“We want them to get that basic stuff in their head so when a fire happens they don’t have to think about it, they already know,” Marion firefighter Eric Hardey said.

The individual fire drills started with Hardey setting off a high-pitched shrill from a smoke detector as students rolled off a makeshift bed.

Crawling across a floor of tumbling mats in the elementary school gym, students made their way to a makeshift door of cloth and PVC pipe.

As they felt the “door” with the backs of their hands, Hardey told them whether or not it was hot or cold. If cold, they escaped the fire through the door. If hot, they scrambled to the nearby “window” for a way out of the make-believe house.

Once safely outside, students gathered at a sign marking a designated meeting place.

“We’re trying to teach them to go home to your parents and practice this stuff ahead of time,” Hardey said. “Find your two ways out so you have it planned when it does happen.”

Doors should be the first exit.

“You have to go to the door first,” Hardey said. “That’s your best way out. We always want the window to be your second choice because the window is more of an obstacle.”

Dropping from a window not on ground level will hurt legs and feet, but it is better than jumping and landing on your head.

“We teach them to climb out and hold on and let go if they have to fall to the ground, we don’t want them to Superman out the window,” Hardey said.

Of the 27 fifth graders who were one of many classes to go through the training, only eight raised their hands when asked if they knew their meeting place in case of a fire.

Good meeting places are away from a house and not in a street, which would be occupied by emergency vehicles in the event of a fire, Hardey said. Mailboxes, a tree away from a house, a neighbor’s house, a nearby field, or a ditch could all work.

Pets should be left behind, Hardey said, but firefighters will save them if they can.

Just because the simulated variables were not exactly like a real fire does not mean students did not learn.

“Even if it’s not (real), it’s still using the same principles,” Hardey said. “When you hear the smoke detector go off and you’re asleep at night, you’re always going to go to the floor. You’re always going to crawl because you want to stay out of the smoke. You’re always going to go to the door first and check it because that’s always going to be your first way out. If the door is hot, then you have to pick your second way.”

This is the first year firefighters in Marion have done an obstacle course fire drill, but the idea was taken from Hillsboro firefighters, who lent the setup, Hardey said.

Built in repetition of yearly drills will help

“Our plan is to start this and do it from first grade to fifth grade, when they get to fifth grade it’s in their head so much they don’t even have to be asked, they just know what they’re doing.”

Hardey said they may try to add other obstacles next year, like a hallway fire, but the goal is to be fun and educational at the same time.

“As long as we can get the idea in their head, that’s what we want,” Hardey said.

Last modified Oct. 19, 2017

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