Valley Stream firefighters have been busy visiting local schools as October is Fire Prevention Month. Children are learning important fire safety lessons that could actually mean the difference between life or death.
Last week, a crew from Engine Company No. 3 visited the Robert W. Carbonaro School with a fire truck and the department’s safety trailer. The “smokehouse,” which actually fills with fake smoke, mimics a home and is designed to teach children how to safely escape from a fire. Two days later, a crew from Engine Company No. 2 went to the Forest Road School.
Ron Garofalo, a former chief of the Valley Stream Fire Department, leads the fire safety program. This year, he said, the department will spread its message to more than 2,000 children at local elementary and nursery schools, and even a Girl Scout troop.
Garofalo said that the firefighters tailor their lessons to each age group. The younger children learn the basics such as stop, drop and roll, and to feel a door to see if its hot. The older students learn the details, like how to crawl low under the smoke because of toxic gases.
He said it is important that people know how to safely escape a fire so when firefighters arrive, everyone is already out of the house. “We’d rather just try to fight the fire,” he said.
Not only do children learn fire safety tips, they learn how to prevent a fire. “The whole idea of fire prevention is so we don’t have to go,” said Michael Laxton, a member of Engine Company No. 3 and the department’s safety officer. “We train them in case something does happen.”
The children also get to meet the firefighters and see the gear they wear. Laxton said it is important for children to know what a firefighter looks like, so they won’t be afraid. “There’s no facial features once that mask goes on,” he said. “You can’t see hands. They hear someone talking with a muffled voice.” At the schools, the kids get to witness the transformation of a firefighter from being a regular-looking person to being in full gear.
Laxton, who participates in the fire prevention program every year, says he often sees the same children and likes to ask them what they’ve learned over time. He says the answers are astounding. “The program is working,” he said.