On a beautiful, sun-spackled day, the Markham fourth grade learned what would happen if the worst happened—their bedrooms caught on fire and they had to get out of the house. Huddled in the department’s portable fire safety house, an eerily lifelike simulator, the kids had the honor of being the department’s 10,000th Fire and Life Safety Class since the school program began in 1986.
The firefighters visit each local classroom twice a year in kindergarten through fifth grade. Firefighters teach as many as seven classes a day, on most days of the school year.
“I think this is the best class we do in this program,” Mike Stohner (Firefighter Mike) told the kids before they started. “I think it’s really fun. We like to see it as real life training. It is a tiny bit dangerous,” he said as he explained that the students needed to follow his instructions carefully.
The students gathered in the simulator, which quickly filled with theatrical smoke as a smoke detector buzzed in the background. Firefighter Mike reminded them that they should immediately drop to the floor and test the door for heat using the backs of their hands. If it was cool, which it was, they could open it a crack. If they saw smoke all the way down to the floor—which they did—they had to escape out the back window. Each student took a turn scooting out the back as Charlie Wehrum (Firefighter Charlie) helped them down the stairs.
Markham Principal Rob Freil, who sat in the simulation with the first group of students, was impressed by the students’ ability to recall material from classes from years gone by.
“I wanna do it again!” one student yelled on the way out of the trailer. Once outside, the kids reviewed how to take a head count, call 911 and how to regroup with their families. Firefighter Mike also reminded them about the importance of functional smoke detectors. “What do we call a smoke detector that doesn’t work? A white hunk of junk hanging from your ceiling.” He told them they need new ones every 10 years even if the detectors seem to be functioning.
After the class, the students received commemorative T-shirts, and were all smiles.
“My favorite part was when I got to climb out the window. It makes me want to be a firefighter,” said Lucie Byrne.
“I liked having the experience,” someone else called.
“There’s never been a fire at my house,” said Molly Zimmerman. “So in case there’s a fire, I know what to do. And I know to get a new smoke detector.”
The morning concluded, aptly enough, with a schoolwide fire drill.