The hidden face. The hiss of assisted breathing. The size-doubling suit. No wonder many children are scared not only of fires, but of firefighters, according to Lt. Jack White of Fire Station No. 6 in Tuscaloosa.
“When we get dressed up, we kind of look like Darth Vader,” White said. “A lot of younger kids in a fire situation, they get scared, and they’ve been known to hide from fire.”
Asia Hill, 11, is braver than that. When a grease fire damaged her home recently, she put into practice what she learned a year ago as a fourth grader in the Fire and Injury Reduction Education program at Arcadia Elementary School. As a result, she escaped safely with her grandmother, her two older sisters and a baby sister she personally carried out of the house.
Asia received a good citizenship medal and plaque for her efforts from Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Alan J. Martin, and Mayor Walt Maddox issued a proclamation marking April 8 as Asia Hill Day. Asia’s 16-year-old sister, Lashema Gaitor, said she was impressed with how much Hill knew about escaping fires and how she got everyone out of the house.
“I would say she reacted different,” Lashema said. “I guess because she knew what to do; it shocked me.”
Lashema was text messaging and talking to her 15-year-old sister, Shamajah Gaitor, when the fire broke out on Feb. 1, Super Bowl Sunday. Asia was watching Cartoon Network when Lashema, who was sitting by a window, realized the house was on fire.
“I told my grandmother, she told everybody to go outside, and that’s when Asia told everybody to go to the top of the hill,” Lashema said.
While Shamajah called 911, Asia found her 6-month-old sister, Savannah Gaitor, and got her out of the house.
Asia said it took a matter of seconds for everyone to get to the meeting place, which she picked because it was far from the house, but she was still worried.
“I felt sorry for my mom, because she had asthma and she was crying and stuff,” Asia said.
Asia, now in fifth grade, had learned in the FIRE program that evacuees should agree on a meeting place to be sure that everyone makes it out of the house safely. She had entered and won the fourth-grade Fire Prevention Week poster contest with a poster on which she drew a house on fire and wrote about meeting places and using a neighbor’s phone to call 911.
Dee Gaitor, Asia’s mother, was out buying Super Bowl snacks when the fire occurred.
She said the asthma attack she had when she returned home to find fire trucks and firefighters at work was less from the smoke and more from the shock and fear for her children’s lives.
“You think you know what to do, but if you’re not really trained, you don’t know,” Gaitor said. “I was glad she knew what she had learned, and it came into process for her, because she knew what to do at that time.”
Until the extensive fire damage is repaired, the family is staying in a hotel.
Gaitor said the family was coping well with the fire’s aftermath.
“I can’t complain,” she said. “I’ve got all my family; we’re together; we’re safe.”
Tilda Mims, Fire and Life Safety Educator for the Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service, said Asia had her priorities in order.
She said Asia confirmed the FIRE program’s longtime goal of reducing preventable fires and injuries.
“She said the reason she knew what to do was because the firefighters had been coming to her school,” Mims said. “To have somebody go, Yeah, that’s why I knew what to do,’ is just such a wonderful thing.”
Firefighters with the FIRE program give safety lessons to students in kindergarten and second and fourth grades. Those firefighters also conduct the Firefighter Games at Tuscaloosa elementary schools between April 20 and May 6, where children can spray fire hoses at targets and don firefighters’ suits.
Asia said she had worn one of the suits last year, which was why she was not afraid of the firefighters on Super Bowl Sunday.
“Last year they let us put on their clothes and stuff, and they taught us how they do it,” Asia said.
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News,
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