Fire Inspector Johnnie Hicks-Johnson said area second-granders at least 16 schools experience the Albany Fire Department’s Fire Safety Home each year. The specially constructed kid-sized house is designed to demonstrate lifesaving fire safety practices to children and their families.
ALBANY, Ga. — Home fire safety is a matter of life or death, fire officials say, and the Albany Fire Department delivers that theme to school kids all over Dougherty County.
The AFD Fire Safety Home is miniature house on wheels, ready to “burn” if basic safety rules are not observed. It also teaches second-graders how best to leave their homes should a threatening fire break out. The Safety Home, donated by the Homebuilder’s Association, includes a living room and kitchen as well an upstairs bedroom. Its four-foot ceilings allow adults to enter on their hands and knees, yet are comfortable for most children. There are real and working windows and a tiny stove, complete with pots and pans.
While seated in the living room, kids receive instructions on how to “drop and roll” should their clothes catch fire, the importance of having two ways out from a fire and other potentially lifesaving practices.
“We tell them they should know how to open their windows to escape a fire,” said Johnnie Hicks-Johnson, fire inspector with the AFD, “and if they can’t open the windows they should break them any way they can.”
In the kitchen, children are shown basic fire safety, such as turning pot and pan handles inward toward the stove and quickly covering them should the contents catch fire. Guidelines for microwaves and water heaters are included.
In the upstairs bedroom, outside controllers add a touch of drama to the fire “emergency” by piping in some harmless, simulated smoke.
“We have one of them lying on the bed,” Hicks-Johnson said. “and we teach them not to sit up if there’s a fire. Because there may be smoke, they should roll off the bed, crawl to the door and feel the knob with the back of their hand.”
According to Hicks-Johnson, if the knob is hot is means the fire is right outside and they should crawl to the window and escape. Firefighters tell the kids that if the window offers no escape, then they should stuff bedsheets under the door, stand at the window and try to attract attention. At every demonstration of the Fire Safety Home, kids are asked to descend a special ladder from the bedroom to the ground.
“You’d be amazed how many kids have never climbed a ladder,” Hicks-Johnson said. “A lot of them think they can climb with just one hand.”
Hicks-Johnson said the greatest hope of the AFD is that the kids take the importance of what they’ve learned to their parents, who will implement the fire safety measures. She said the Fire Safety Home comes to second grade classes in 16 or 17 schools throughout the area, usually from early February through the middle of March.
According to Fire Chief James Carswell, many of the fire-related deaths that occur each year come from a lack of understanding. People are unaware that heat, smoke and toxic gases often are more deadly than the actual flames.
“Many of the things that burn give off deadly gases,” Carswell said. “Carbon monoxide used to be the biggest single killer, but hydrogen cyanide is rapidly catching up.”
Carswell said that during a fire, dark and blinding smoke can fill a room more quickly than most people imagine, making it all but impossible to navigate surroundings. He suggests memorizing the basic layout of your home well enough to escape by touch, staying low to the floor to avoid the fumes and searing heat. When spending a night away from home, memorize the direction and number of doors to a safety exit.
“The reality of a fire is not like in the movies,” Carswell said. “You don’t see other people walking around inside the house. You don’t see anything. It’s pitch black.”
To survive a fire emergency, it’s important to have at least one smoke alarm, Carswell said, and to test it every month. According to Carswell, there are two basic types of alarms available — those that operate on the principle of ionization, which are more responsive to “flaming” fires, and the photoelectric alarms, which are better suited to detect “smoldering” fires. While either is superior to no alarm at all, the greatest protection comes from installing both types, or single units utilizing both detection methods.
“It could save your life,” Carswell said.