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10/11/2013 6:00:00 AM
Fire Pal gets the word out: Firefighters teach local students basic fire safety lessons
Courtesy photoFire Pal Jeremiah King teaches a class of Coyote Springs Elementary School students how to safely cross the street Friday in Prescott Valley.  Fire Pals teach students to look both ways and listen before crossing as part of the Fire Pal program with the Central Yavapai Fire District.  King has volunteered his time as a Fire Pal for 14 years. CYFD Fire Marshal Rick Chase also serves as a Fire Pal with the school.
Courtesy photo
Fire Pal Jeremiah King teaches a class of Coyote Springs Elementary School students how to safely cross the street Friday in Prescott Valley.  Fire Pals teach students to look both ways and listen before crossing as part of the Fire Pal program with the Central Yavapai Fire District.  King has volunteered his time as a Fire Pal for 14 years. CYFD Fire Marshal Rick Chase also serves as a Fire Pal with the school.
Patrick Whitehurst
The Daily Courier

The Urban Survival Program, known as the Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) Fire Pal program, has been a fixture in the Humboldt School District (HUSD) for a number of years. And its popularity continues to grow.

CYFD Fire Marshall Rick Chase said the program has been offered around Prescott Valley for about 20 years. All schools in the HUSD are enrolled in the program, as well as two charter schools in the area.

Off-duty firefighters are known in schools as Fire Pals. The firefighters teach safety and education to students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. In the fall, the program focuses on students in kindergarten through second grade. Classes are about half an hour long. In the spring, the program shifts gears to accommodate kids in third grade through fifth grade. Eight firefighters currently assist in the Fire Pal program.

Typically, a Fire Pal will stick with the same school for years, sometimes for more than a decade, in order to build a rapport with the students. Two former students in the Fire Pal program, Carl and Justin Postula, are now employed as CYFD firefighters themselves.

Mandy Ayers, administrative assistant and public education coordinator for CYFD, said retired CYFD engineer Dale Slothower originally started the program with his wife, who taught in the area at the time. Slothower adopted the program from a similar one taught in schools by members of the Phoenix Fire Department.

"They had an urban survival program that they used in the schools there. We brought it here and tried it as a pilot program. He did it in his wife's classroom. Since then we've made a lot of changes to it to meet the needs of our kids, but that's how it began," Ayers said.

Firefighters teach and talk about fire safety and life safety as part of Fire Pal. Age-specific topics include how to be a safe pedestrian, crossing the street, stop, drop and roll, smoke safety, and on getting to know a firefighter.

"The reason we do that is because a lot of kids might be afraid of a firefighter in the event of a fire. It's always scary enough. You've got fire, you've got smoke all over, and kids have been known to hide under their beds or in their closets. What we teach them is don't ever hide, but yell to us and let us find you," Chase said.

During the Fire Pal demonstration, firefighters will don their gear and allow children to hear them speak under a mask.

"It kind of sounds like Darth Vader. When kids hear that, they think a giant robot is in there," Chase said.

Classes for older students deal with telling the difference between pills and candy, bicycle safety, a home escape plan, calling 9-1-1 in an emergency and more.

"Over the last few years, we've had children that have actually called 9-1-1 for a family member. We love to recognize them for that. We give them a little plaque and an award, because it's such a good thing that they can actually do that," Chase said.

Bullying has also been a topic of discussion for fifth-graders in the Fire Pal program, Ayers said, and that portion of the program is now expanding.

"What we figured out, is we may have to add it in to a younger age group. Bullying is happening at a much younger age at this point. We added it into third grade," Ayers said.

Follow reporter Patrick Whitehurst on Twitter @pwdcourier.



Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, October 12, 2013
Article comment by: Long-Time HUSD Employee

Ms. Ayers is incorrect. Retired Fire Chief David Curtis, who was the Fire Marshal at the time, started the program. He had the idea, put together all the materials, found firefighters to support the program, and brought it to us at HUSD for our approval. Firefighter Slothower and his wife did support the program.

Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013
Article comment by: Might as well...

Might as well re-name the Courier to 'newspaper of firefighter stories'. Nothing in the Courier anymore but firefighter stories...it is getting really lame.



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