National Fire Prevention Week is traditionally the time of year that fire/rescue departments hold open houses and other public-safety events. Community and family members visit firehouses to learn a little more about their local fire department and general fire safety information.
The atmosphere in the station can be a little more relaxed because of these types of events. However, as the reports below remind us, it's important to maintain situational awareness to ensure the safety of visitors and our firefighters.
Report #09-387: We were giving a tour to elementary school students during Fire Prevention Week. There were 15 students and only two supervisory personnel available to watch them. While looking at the fire vehicles, several students began to horseplay on the apparatus. When one of the supervisory personnel noticed, he tried to take action to stop the children and slipped while climbing up on the apparatus, falling on his knees. While falling, he reached for something to stop his fall and instead grabbed the leg of child, pulling the child from the apparatus to the floor. The child only received minor scrapes and bruises and the firefighter was out of service for the rest of the shift due to injuries to his knee.
Report #06-201: Our pumper was on display at our fire department open house and a firefighter was assigned to answer any questions. Adults and children were allowed to enter the pumper and look around. Numerous families took photos of children in the driver's seat. A family was taking photos of other family members sitting on the bumper of the pumper. While that was taking place, a young boy had climbed into the cab of the pumper and was pretending to drive. As he was in the driver's seat, he hit the air brake knob releasing the air pressure holding the brakes. The apparatus started to roll forward. The firefighter assigned to the pumper ran to the driver's door, reached in with his hand and was able to press the brake pedal. He was then able to reset the brakes. Fortunately, no one who was in front of the pumper was harmed in any way.
Report #06-531: We were holding our annual fire prevention night activities, which included the smoke house trailer. We were teaching the children about safety in the home and bedroom. The trailer then filled with smoke and everything seemed to be fine. After our first few tours, a woman screamed for help and stated her child was having trouble breathing. We didn't realize at first that it was an allergic reaction until en route to the hospital. We asked the mother if the child had any allergies. She stated yes, he was severely allergic to peanuts. We kept thinking of how his allergic reaction could have occurred at the station. We tried to think where the child could have gotten peanuts. Then one of us thought about the smoke trailer. The smoke is made from peanut oil, which started his reaction. This is one of those things you just don't think of until something goes wrong.
Apparatus displays and smoke trailers are common at Fire Prevention Week activities. To ensure the success of your public-safety events, be sure to address these ABCs based on these near-miss reports:
- Alert - Whether your smoke machine is chemical- or organic-based, like using peanut oil, post signs or distribute flyers describing the smoke materials in case members of the public are allergic or sensitive to smoke. It's also a good idea to notify the public ahead of an activity using any visual fire alarms, such as strobe lights or other flashing lights, because these may induce seizures.
- Basics - Don’t forget the basics of apparatus management, including the use of wheel chocks, using a backer and wearing high-visibility reflective vests. Wearing these vests is also a good reminder for the public to slow down when they see someone wearing a reflective vest on the road. If possible, have a department member in the apparatus at all times to answer questions and to ensure the public is safe. Hearing protection is also important if the public will have access to sounding alarms.
- Chaperones - Don’t assume that the teachers or chaperones are watching all students when a school group is visiting the firehouse. The guests at your firehouse are your responsibility, so be sure to have additional personnel on hand to prevent any incidents like those highlighted in the first two report excerpts above.
Fire Prevention Week is a great time to highlight the importance of fire prevention all year long. Take a little extra time to prepare for the safety aspects of these public-safety events; this will help ensure that everyone remembers the visit for all of the right reasons.