FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Hundreds gathered outside Fire Station Five for the annual Fort Lewis Fire and Emergency Services Fire Safety Fair on Saturday to help kick off National Fire Prevention Week. The event takes place once a year during the week of Oct. 8, the day when the infamous Great Chicago Fire happened in 1871.

This year's campaign motto - Stay Fire Smart! Don't Get Burned! - "focuses on ways to keep homes fire safe and prevent painful burns," according to the National Fire Protection Association Web site.

The fair had something for everyone, including the department's newest addition: a fire safety trailer, which recently made its debut after being purchased by the Directorate of Emergency Services.

"It's already doing great things for us," said Donald A. Lane, chief of fire prevention. "Parents are taking advantage of it and learning what to do in different scenarios."

The trailer features a bedroom and kitchen designed to teach people how to react in the event of a fire. While both scenarios are beneficial for all ages, the bedroom is geared toward younger children while the kitchen scenario targets older kids and adults.

Maechell Ritter of Fort Lewis said the trailer was the perfect way to teach her two daughters, ages 2 and 4 years, about fire safety.

"I might not be there when something happens, so they need to know what to do," she said.
Ritter said she learned a few things from the bedroom scenario that she plans to practice at home with her children.

"If there's smoke coming in, take a sheet from your bed and put it at the bottom of the door to keep smoke from coming in," she said.

The bedroom scenario teaches children to do just that. After a smoke detector activates and nontoxic "smoke" begins filling the room, a firefighter instructs them on what to do next.

"We teach them to come over and feel the door; then we give them a towel to throw at the bottom of the door," said Edward Chavez, fire inspector with FLFES.

Chavez then explained to them the importance of keeping the door closed.

"We teach them that the fire is near the room due to the heat on the door, so we tell them to go ahead and open their bedroom window and wait for the firemen," Chavez said.

With the kitchen scenario, participants learned how to extinguish oven and stovetop fires using a Bullex digital training system.

According to Spc. Brian Fike, a firefighter with 80th Ordnance Battalion, one thing he noticed is that people tend to panic when there is a fire ... even in the trailer, where everything is simulated.

"Some people don't know how to use a fire extinguisher, but even those who do sometimes panic and forget what they need to do," he said.

Martina Jones admitted to being one of those people who panicked at first, but she began to relax after going through the trailer scenarios.

For Jones and her four children, ages 7, 9, 11 and 12, fire safety will take on a whole new meaning in their home after going to the fair.

"(The trailer) is really neat, especially for the kids," she said, "but even us grown-ups react in crazy ways sometimes."

One thing Fike taught her was that it's OK to call 911.

"If you don't have a fire extinguisher in hand or you don't know how to put out the fire, he said the best thing to do is go outside and call 911," Jones said.

Jones said she learned a lot from the fair and plans on implementing some of what she learned into her home.

"If we ever do run into a situation where there's a fire, we should all know what to do now," she said.

Lane said education is the key to fire safety and prevention. He also stressed the importance of teaching it at an early age.

"There's always an opportunity to educate the children and make sure that they know how to react," Lane said. "From toddlers being able to recognize the signs, to the prevention side for older children where they're taught to use fire extinguishers, we're always looking to educate them.

Lane said fire prevention is more than a weeklong education stint. He said it's an ongoing mission that he hoped the trailer would be able to assist him and his men in teaching to the community.

"We're going to enhance our public education forum by taking it out to the folks, out to the schools and child development centers," he said. "We want people to gain a better understanding of fire, especially from the preventive side."

Laura M. Levering is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri October 9th, 2009 at 17:29