Thanks to a new teaching tool, Fort Benning community members can learn about fire and tornado safety by experiencing their effects firsthand.

The Fort Benning Fire Department acquired a 40-foot safety and fire education trailer in April that provides hands-on, interactive simulations of being trapped at home during a house fire, hurricane and tornado. The trailer features effects such as rocking and shaking, smoke, flickering lights, a door that heats up, and a window equipped with a ladder participants can climb down to simulate exiting a house fire.

Using the trailer will help firefighters and inspectors better educate parents and children on what to do during a fire or tornado, said Ryan Earwood, Fort Benning fire inspector.

"It's one of those things you don't really think about until it's too late, so we want people to keep it in mind," Earwood said.

Costing approximately $49,000, the trailer is divided into two rooms - one simulating a bedroom, and one with a small kitchen inspectors use to demonstrate kitchen safety.
Lessons using the trailer can be adapted to meet the learning needs of any age group, Earwood said. For young children, Earwood focuses on teaching where to go during a fire, and for parents, he talks about the importance of proper fire extinguisher and smoke detector maintenance.

"People tend to put their fire extinguishers in the back of their cabinets where they can't reach them," he said. "We want them to put it in the front, and to check their fire extinguisher when they check their smoke alarms. If they have questions, they can call the fire department and we'll come check their fire extinguisher for them.

"The biggest thing we teach kids is not to hide during a fire. We hope the parents will get to them, but if they can't, kids should either stay close to the door, or if it's hot, the window, so firefighters can find them more easily."

Earwood emphasized the importance of having an emergency fire exit plan.

"Have a meeting point," he said. "A lot of parents don't know where they would go (in a fire), and realize after visiting the trailer they need to think about it."

One of the trailer's biggest benefits is that it provides a hands-on experience that helps participants better retain what they've learned, Earwood said.

"We could sit here and talk about it all day, but when you see the smoke and hear the smoke detector go off, you think, 'Hey this could be my house,'" he said. "When you actually see it, you're able to start thinking about it."

Tanja McCuen, of Pine Mountain, Ga., visited the trailer May 21 with her daughters, Rebekah, 13, Shannon, 12 and Mariah, 10, who she home-schools. McCuen called it a great learning experience.

"There are a lot of things I intuitively know and don't think to teach them, like putting the lid on a grease fire," she said. "This helped with that."

"I learned what not to do in a tornado," Rebekah said. "We've done fire drills before, but not tornado drills."

Shannon said the smoke and grease fire demonstrations were her favorite part, while Mariah enjoyed climbing out the trailer's window.

The McCuens were just four of hundreds of people who have visited the trailer so far, Earwood said. The fire department plans to bring the trailer to town hall meetings and to future Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation events.