In the past, teaching fire safety to kids might have entailed firefighters going to schools, handing out plastic fire hats, and teaching "stop, drop and roll."
But now, kids can learn in a more hands-on way.
Thanks to a donation from the New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs Association, the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Squad has secured a home safety trailer that can simulate all the potential hazards one might find around the house.
The NHRFR serves Union City, West New York, North Bergen, Guttenberg, and Weehawken.
The $38,000 trailer was secured by NHRFR Chief Brion McEldowney, who is a regional vice president with the NJDFCA.
"The association donated five of these trailers to other parts of the state," McEldowney said. "So I asked if there was a possibility to get one for our regional. Eventually, we want to take the trailer to every single school in North Hudson, as well as any career days or safety days in the regional. It will provide a hands-on fire safety presentation as opposed to just speaking about it. It's definitely a much more effective presentation."
The trailer is complete with a sitting area for about 10 to 15 students. They can see a video presentation in a television area, complete with a VCR. But there is also a simulated kitchen area, complete with stove, microwave and sink, which can point out the dangers of leaving a stove turned on or even leaving a pot handle turned toward the outside.
"We have several other props that we place around the trailer so the children can point out the dangers, like cigarettes, candles, aerosol cans and faulty extension cords," McEldowney said.
But there are other features that cannot be found anywhere else, like a door that heats up to show the children they should not touch or open hot doors because it means that a fire is behind it.
But the most impressive feature of the trailer is the smoke-making machine. In the matter of seconds, the trailer can be filled with non-toxic safe smoke, similar to what is used in the theater and on movie sets, so the children can learn how to stay low and gain a safe exit from the burning facility.
"It gives them a sight, sound, smell and feel experience of what it's like to be in a real fire," McEldowney said. "It teaches the children to stay low. It's easier to learn when all the senses are involved. We can definitely simulate a fire escape, teaching the children to stay low, don't touch anything hot, and they can escape through a back window in the trailer."
McEldowney said that it was part of his plan to establish a community relations department within the NHRFR to increase fire safety education. Capt. Tom Irving will head the department, while Capt. Jonathan Rush will be strictly in charge of maintaining and care of the trailer.
"We're taking a strong forceful approach to fire safety," McEldowney said. "We want the message of fire safety to have an impact on the community. This trailer is the first step."
McEldowney said the trailer, which was manufactured by a Pennsylvania-based firm called Scotties, was made to the specifications of the NHRFR, because they also want to eventually introduce the trailer to senior citizen groups as well.
"We asked for high ceilings in the trailer, so we could get the senior citizens in here as well," McEldowney said.
NHRFR Co-Director Jeff Welz applauded the efforts, saying that the trailer will definitely help to save lives.
"A kid is definitely going to remember this forever," Welz said. "He'll remember what to do if something happens like a fire."
"The odds are that one kid will experience a fire in his lifetime," McEldowney said. "This can actually save lives."
The trailer was slated to be officially unveiled at the Guttenberg Safe Kids Day celebration on Boulevard East Saturday afternoon (Oct. 11). Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna was given a tour of the trailer Wednesday and came away impressed.
"We've done our share of fire safety and prevention in the schools, but nothing to the effect that this will have," Delle Donna said. "This gives the kids a hands-on approach. They'll know what to do. I've never seen anything like it, especially with the smoke. After the kids experience the trailer, they perhaps won't panic if they're ever in a real fire. I'm just glad that we're a part of it."
Welz expressed his debt to the New Jersey Deputy Chiefs Association for donating the trailer.
"We're deeply indebted, because we could have never afforded to buy something like this," Welz said. "It's very hard with all the other things we have to do. This is a big help. Let's face facts. We live in very densely populated area where there are a lot of fires. The more we can educate people, the more we can save lives."
McEldowney said he worked for the last four years to see if he could secure a trailer for the regional. "It's really great to see it come to fruition," he said.Pictured above: From left is NHRFR Deputy Chief Eric Inauen, Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna, NHRFR Chief Brion McEldowney, Firefighter William Krieger, Firefighter Louis Knoetig, Firefighter Steve Chrissakis, NHRFR Co-Director Jeff Welz and Battalion Chief Danny Giacumbo.