The smoke detector rang loudly in the background and Ollie Cornelius knew just what to do.
First, he put the back of his hand against the bedroom door to check for heat. There was none. So, he slowly opened the door to find the entire downstairs filled with smoke.
Quickly closing the door, Ollie put a blanket from the bed along the floor to keep smoke from filling the room, and went to the window to call for help.
Firefighter Lucas Dewit quickly came to his aid and helped him climb down a ladder to safety.
For Ollie and fourth-graders across the Mt. Lebanon School District this simulation, of sorts, was a fun way to learn a valuable lesson about fire safety.
“Having a fire can be really dangerous and you need to know how to handle it whenever there is one,” said Ollie, 10, a fourth grader at Lincoln Elementary.
Mt. Lebanon Fire Department Lt. Kris Siegert brought the department’s fire safety trailer to all seven elementary schools in the district in the second half of May to provide this hands-on learning experience for fourth graders. It was the first time the trailer was back at the schools in three years–and it had a new look to it.
Just prior to COVID-19, the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department received funding through St. Clair Health, Allstate Insurance and the Mt. Lebanon Community Endowment to update the exterior of the trailer. Volunteer firefighter Scott Bowlin used his graphic design skills to give the 20-plus year old trailer new life.
“This is the capstone for the fire safety program that we run that started in kindergarten,” Siegert said.
Siegert, known across Mt. Lebanon as “Firefighter Kris,” visits the schools frequently throughout the year to teach students fire safety lessons. In first grade, the students learn how to “get low and go,” by second grade they’re designating a safe meeting place outside their home and in third grade they’re learning more planning and fire prevention skills.
“Training like this allows kids to feel empowered and ready in case of an actual emergency,” Siegert said. “Knowing what to do reduces anxiety and fear, and they can act on the plan they already have established.”
Inside the trailer there is a makeshift bedroom that students are told to imagine is on the second floor of a home. Siegert starts the lesson by designating a safe meeting space and reviewing with the students the importance of smoke detectors.
“Just like at home, we should have a smoke alarm in our bedroom and where people sleep,” Siegert said. There also should be a smoke detector in the hallway and one of every floor at the bottom of the steps to give you time to escape.
Inside the trailer, the smoke alarm is rigged to not go off until the entire downstairs area fills with smoke–which in this case is theatrical smoke for effect.
If the smoke detector went off when smoke began to rise in the room, Siegert teaches the students that they would hear the alarm and be able to walk out of the house before smoke fills the entire space.
This lesson was a worst-case scenario.
“By letting them practice how to exit a smoke-filled home in a controlled environment, they are able to apply the lessons learned without the pressure that a real emergency produces,” Siegert said.
Lincoln fourth grader Nandi Ghildyal, 10, said she learned a lot from Firefighter Kris.
“Pouring water over the fire isn’t the only way to fight one,” she said.
Siegert reminded the students that the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department will provide smoke detectors for their homes for free if their parents call and ask. He also encouraged them to make sure there are working smoke detectors in their house—and to check them once a month and replace them every 10 years.
Ollie said he planned to go home and check that the smoke detectors were working– “duh!”
The lessons not only help teach students what to do in an emergency, but also help prevent fires.
“We got to less fires because kids are helping their families stay safe,” Siegert said.