Education leads to prevention.
That is the motto the Clarinda Volunteer Fire Department has adopted over the years when it comes to fire safety. Clarinda Fire Chief Roger Williams said the department focuses its educational efforts around Fire Prevention Week, which is be observed from Oct. 4-11 this year.
“This is a good time of year to think about fire prevention. You may never have had an issue, but that one time you do, it’s good to have a plan. If you have never talked about what to do in case of a fire, the odds are you are not as calm and able to get out of the situation,” Williams said. “All fires start small, but they grow pretty quickly. So preventing the fire is the number one thing.”
In order to do that, Williams said the department speaks with and distributes fire prevention materials to 800 area students ranging in age from preschool through third grade. Members of the department normally visit the preschools and elementary schools in Clarinda, while students from South Page have toured the fire station in the past.
However, due to the COVID-19 guidelines in place at the schools, Williams said the members of the department would not be able to meet with students directly.
“This year, with COVID, we can’t go inside the school to do a presentation or have the kids go through our safety house. All we are allowed to do is drop off fire prevention materials,” Williams said.
Those materials include coloring books, back packs, water bottles and wrist bands promoting fire safety. Meanwhile, students in third through fifth grade may make fire prevention posters through the school art program. The members of the department select the top three posters from each grade level and those winners are entered in a state contest.
During the presentation given to the younger students, a fire fighter dressed in full bunker gear, helmet, mask and air tank enters the classroom so the children are familiar with how a fire fighter would look and sound during a fire. Since this demonstration cannot be done in person, department was considering developing a video that could be shown to the students.
“If you have a fire, don’t hide,” Williams said. “We want to teach them at a young age not to be afraid. We want them to know if someone with a mask and air tank is crawling around on the floor and breathing funny, that they are actually there to help you.”
During the visit, Williams said the members of the department also discuss the importance of not playing with matches, not opening a door if the doorknob is hot, not jumping out a window, having a family escape plan and meeting spot in place, calling 911 after you are out of the house, what information you need to provide when calling 911 and not reentering the home once you have exited.
“The activity books and coloring books reinforce those ideas. We give these materials and information to students in PK-2. The idea is the young kids will get the message and bring that information back to their parents and the entire family will practice fire safety,” Williams said.
Along with developing a family escape plan, Williams said adults need to be aware of the importance of keeping lighters and matches out of reach of children and being cautious with discarded smoking material. Adults should also take caution about the use of extension cords.
“Be sure to check the condition of extension cords used for space heaters or holiday decorations. Be sure to use the right kind of extension cord and don’t run them under carpet or rugs. Power strips, like extension cords, come in indoor and outdoor types, and have a breaker on them to help prevent overloading the electrical wires in your house,” Williams said.
Other household safety steps people should take are checking if their furnace needs cleaning and that the ventilation system of wood burning stoves is clear to prevent any issues with carbon monoxide. Williams said Fire Prevention Week is also an ideal time for people to change the batteries in their smoke detectors.
“During the week we tell the kids it’s their smoke alarm’s birthday, and they should give it a present and install a new battery. Even the hard-wired ones have a battery backup and should be replaced. Fire prevention is the first defense against a fire and smoke detectors are the second defense. When it goes off you know you need to get up because something is going on,” Williams said.
The Clarinda Fire Department can also provide people with smoke detectors if needed. People may contact members of the department or Clarinda City Hall for more information.
In order to pay for the materials presented to children during Fire Prevention Week, Williams said the Clarinda Fire Department uses some of the proceeds from its annual fund drive. Williams said letters for the fund drive were sent out this month.
The Clarinda Fire & Rescue Department services Clarinda, Shambaugh and Yorktown. The townships of Nodaway, Harlan, East River, Nebraska and parts of Douglas, Tarkio and Lincoln are also served by the department.
All donations through the fund drive are tax-deductible and may be sent to the department using the postage-paid envelope included with the letter. Last year, donations from the fund drive were used to purchase smoke detectors, fire prevention materials, gloves, protective hoods, pagers and other gear for the fire fighters. Williams estimated it costs $10,000 to fully equip a new fire fighter with gear and an air pack.
The department purchased three new self-contained breathing apparatuses, or air packs, and six spare SCBA bottles last year through a grant from the Omaha Community Foundation. A grant from the Clarinda Foundation for $3,600 was also used to purchase two spare SCBA bottles and 30 pairs of wild land firefighting gloves.
“If we didn’t have support from the public and organizations like the Clarinda Foundation, we wouldn’t be able to update our equipment and training to handle emergencies in the community,” Williams said.
Currently, there are 21 members on the Clarinda Volunteer Fire Department. Those 21 members have 485 years of total service for an average of 24 years per member.
Assistant Fire Chief Joe Moore has the most tenure with the department with 44 years of service. Neil Ohden and Williams each have 40 years of service, while Hap Murphy has 37 years of service. The newest member of the department is Carl Brunner. He was appointed to the department by the Clarinda City Council last month.
The department is certified for a maximum of 30 members. Williams said he would ideally like to see the department return to 25 members.
“We were down to 18 two years ago and that was pretty scary. It’s hard to get people interested when you tell them what they have to do. There are a lot of regulations through the state, so you have to get certified, which takes about six months,” Williams said.
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