Alaska Students Learn From New Fire Safety House

By JERZY SHEDLOCK | October 22, 2012

Kindergartners climbed out of a trailer’s rear window, one after the next, as smoke billowed over their small frames. Some let go of the window seal before their feet touched the ground. As the North Star Elementary students walked away from the smoke, they smiled and laughed.

A smoke machine generated the grey clouds, of course.

The Nikiski Fire Department brought out its newly completed fire safety house to the elementary during the week of Oct. 7. Engineer Levi Doss led students of all ages through the trailer’s three sections, which taught and reinforced fire safety tips.

Construction of the fire safety house began in early summer. The house is actually a 30-foot tow trailer separated into three rooms: a small auditorium with a flat screen television and seating, a kitchen with fire safety decals stuck on the walls and a bedroom, the area Nikiski’s fire fighters filled with smoke.

Funding for the purchase and construction of the trailer came from left over grant money. Last year, the department received an Assistance to Fire Fighters Grant, a federal endowment. It used the $100,000 grant to install a fire alarm system in Station 1, and some monies remained when the project was completed, said Nikiski Fire Department Chief James Baisden.

The fire safety house cost $26,000. Baisden said he was pleased with the outcome and the price of the project.

“I looked into what other departments around the nation had built or bought, and some of the houses are in the $100,000-plus range,” he said. “But some of the guys had the idea that we could do it with the available funds, and it came out great.”

Doss and the fire department’s mechanic Gail White guided the projected through its completion, Baisden said.

At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Christina Beahm’s kindergarten class shuffled outdoors behind their Nikiski school where the fire department had parked a fire engine along and the fire safety house.

They packed into the trailer’s first room, sitting shoulder to shoulder in bright-colored winter jackets. Their eyes were fixed on the room’s large high-definition TV as a cartoon played.

The video featured talking vehicles explaining the hazards of house fires. “One minute can mean the difference between life and death,” a round-eyed fire engine said.

Later, the video encouraged the kids to sit down with their family and formulate a home escape plan. After the video, Ross asked the kindergartners what they’d learned. One student said coming up with an escape plan, then Ross asked the kids how many already had one. About half of the class raised their hands.

There are nine different videos, each aimed at specific age groups, Ross said. The cartoons stop at third grade. The videos then switch to “Dateline-type” videos, with real-world scenarios.

The fire fighters separated the class into two groups following the video. One group explored the trailer’s additional rooms while classmates got a chance to spray the engine’s fire hose.

The fire safety house’s kitchen is used to show the kids more dos and don’ts. Graphics line its walls; two of them read “Never leave cooking unattended” and “Test smoke alarms monthly.”

Kids enjoyed the fire safety house’s last room most, they said. Fire fighters filled the room with non-hazardous smoke. The kids crawled through the room, underneath the smoke, and continued out its window.

The room also features a door with a heated panel to reinforce an important lesson: test doorknobs with the back of the hand. White concocted the creation by connecting a truck’s block heater with a voltage regulator.

Sable Christoffersen said her favorite part was escaping out the window, and classmate Daniel “Danny Boy” Broussard enjoyed crawling under the smoke.

Baisden said his department has thought awhile about “props” it could use to teach elementary school students. He sees the fire safety house as long-term community fixture.

“Another nice thing about it is that once a lot of us have left (the department), it will still be in use for 15 to 20 years,” he said.

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