Firefighters stop, drop and roll to school

Christine Stephenson/The Herald
Firefighters John Betz, left, Justin Vonderheide and Brian Wissel of the St. Anthony Volunteer Fire Department show off their suits and equipment to a group of Pine Ridge Elementary School students Friday morning. Firefighters from St. Anthony, Birdseye and Schnellville visited the school to teach students about fire safety for National Fire Prevention Week.


BIRDSEYE — Ten fire trucks and more than a dozen firefighters from the Schnellville, Birdseye and St. Anthony fire departments filled the Pine Ridge Elementary School parking lot Friday morning.

Firefighters from across the county have been visiting schools throughout the week to educate students about Fire Prevention Week. Throughout the country, the week of Oct. 9 is used to recognize fallen firefighters and educate the public about how to prevent fires in remembrance of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that killed about 300 people and destroyed much of the city.

For the younger kids, it’s all about learning the basics of fire safety and helping them feel more comfortable around firefighters and their trucks. The students spent the morning traveling in small groups to each different type of truck.

“It’s just a fun way to educate the kids, and I know the firefighters love it, as well,” Principal Ryan Haas said.

Brian Wissel, first assistant chief with the St. Anthony Volunteer Fire Department, dressed in his firefighter suit to show the Pine Ridge students how all the equipment works, from his helmet to his boots.

John Betz from St. Anthony also dressed in his suit and showed the students his PASS, or Personal Alert Safety System. It’s a machine clipped to the suit that beeps if a firefighter is motionless for 30 seconds or more.

“If this starts beeping, it means that one of our firefighters needs help,” Wissel told a class of Kindergartners. “It’s like when you go out to recess and stay in groups. We go in groups, too, because we have to be ready to help our friends.”

Of course, the firefighters also reminded the students of the importance of “stop, drop and roll.”

“Fires are like humans that they need oxygen to survive,” Nick Merkley, equipment officer for St. Anthony, told a group of students. “So when you tuck your arms in and roll on the ground, you’re taking the oxygen away.”

Wissel also told the students that if they think there is smoke from a fire nearby, it’s important to stay low to the ground to make an exit. It can be up to 1,000 degrees near the ceiling of a room, while the ground could be several hundred degrees cooler. Smoke also rises, so it’s easier to breathe toward the ground.

“You can pull your shirt over your nose, too, so it can act as a filter and you can breathe easier,” he said.

Across the parking lot, Travis Theising of the Schnellville Volunteer Fire Department showed students a fire rescue truck, which is used in emergency medical situations. He showed them equipment from an extraction device for crashes and an AED, which helps those experiencing sudden heart attacks.

Theising also reminded the students to have their family check their smoke detectors when they got home that day.

“Do you guys have smoke alarms in your houses?” he asked. “They sound a little different than the ones here at school.”

“I have one in my room,” one student said.

“I have one just above my head,” another responded.

The students also participated in a fire drill before meeting with the firefighters, as did several other schools in the county. Several of the students wore T-shirts representing the three fire departments because someone in their family is a firefighter.

When Merkley asked a group of Kindergartners if they had any questions, one student raised her hand to say her dad is a firefighter.

“I bet he has to leave sometimes during the night then, doesn’t he?” Merkley asked. “Make sure you give him a big hug when he gets home today.”

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