The Greensburg, Indiana, Fire Department is joining in the nationwide observance of Fire Prevention Week, running from Monday, October 5th through Friday, October 9th. The Greensburg Fire Department (GFD) has been serving the community of Greensburg and Washington Township since 1874, and has a long history of community involvement, both in traditional firefighting as well as providing fire safety education for schools, businesses, and home owners.
Fire Chief Scott Chasteen arranged for his available manpower to allow four firefighters to provide onsite educational experiences for all of the elementary schools with the mobile Fire Safety House. Teachers are included in the program, with each receiving a bright orange T shirt to wear. The shirts boldly proclaim Be Cool About Fire Safety If You Don’t Want To Get Burned. Chasteen said “Having the teachers wear these shirts not only includes them in our program, but also encourages them to actively participate, and continue discussions in the classroom after our demonstrations at the Fire Safety House display.”
I caught up with the firefighters at the Greensburg Elementary School. Both a fire engine and the Fire Safety House were parked adjacent to one of the playgrounds. Shift Captain Brian Wenning graciously gave me a tour of the Fire Safety House, which the GFD was able to purchase with grant money from FEMA. He also explained the presentation they give to all the children and teachers.
The House is actually a two room trailer, with one room set up as a ‘bedroom’ complete with a bed, curtained windows and a carpeted floor. The second room has a mock kitchen with range and refrigerator, as well as step type seating on one end, allowing the kids to sit while the firefighters give the fire safety program. The range top has a pan, which when uncovered has false flames that “need to be smothered” with a lid. False smoke can be introduced, which sets off the smoke alarms, giving a realistic scenario for the kids to witness, and participate in escape techniques. Wenning also explained to me how a telephone is also used in the program. There is a small space with a phone where a firefighter stands. The children use a phone in the other room and make a call to “911”. The firefighter can see the child, through a small window and closed circuit TV, and answers as a real 911 operator would answer a call. The child then gives his name, address, etc. “This gives the child a chance to make a call to 911, and gives us a chance to see if the child knows the information each person should have to relay to the 911 operator,” Wenning explained.
Outside of the House, on the sidewalk about 30 feet away, the firefighters have a mailbox, a tree, and a small doghouse, complete with a stuffed “Sparky” dog. These represent the gathering places that all families should designate for fire drills and real emergency evacuations at their home. Wenning described how they teach the students about a safe gathering place. “We tell each group of youngsters ahead of time which gathering place to go to. They also know how many are in their group. Once the group has gathered at the right place, we ask them to count heads. Sometimes we hold one child back in the house as the others ‘escape’. When the count comes up short we have a chance to tell the kids that they are never to go back into a burning house. That is our job as firefighters.”
The students and teachers who are fortunate enough to participate in this fire safety program come away with very detailed, informative practices that can be real lifesaving techniques when applied at home.
Wenning went on to describe the other functions of the Fire safety House. It turns out that the trailer can also be used by the GFD as a command center for emergency incidents. The “bed” turns into an office desk, the CCTV cameras cover both rooms. In addition, there is a mast mounted camera that can be deployed on the roof that will give a 360° view of the incident site. The GFD is to be praised for such an effective use of FEMA grant money. Two uses in one is a testament to GFD’s good stewardship.
Chasteen also said that a chili supper has become a traditional final event of Fire Prevention Week in Greensburg. Held on Friday afternoon, featuring firehouse chili, many of the local community gather at the Larry D Filler Station One, located at 528 North Ireland Street in Greensburg. Chasteen was very complimentary of the support the local business community provides for the activities of Fire Prevention Week. “We receive donations annually in the $4000 to $5000 range. Our business community is very generous in their support of this worthwhile safety program” Chasteen stated.
The Greensburg Fire Department is to be commended for its participation in Fire Prevention Week. If just one life is saved, or if just one precious child is not burned due to the educational programs presented this week, then all of Chasteen’s, Wenning’s, and the other firefighters’ time and effort will be more than worth the effort.