Practice drills introduce kids to escaping from fires

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Thursday, May 15, 2008
— The Janesville Fire Department holds drills twice a month with Janesville third-grade classes at the Stateline Survive Alive House, 911 Newark Road, Beloit.

On Wednesday, Jefferson Elementary School students participated in two drills to practice escaping from a house fire.

Here’s what the they were like:

Bedroom escape

The drill: A simulation of waking in the night to a smoke alarm. When the alarm sounded, four kids at a time were to roll out of bed, crawl to the door of the dimly lit second-story room and test it for heat. (The door was fitted with a waterbed heater so it would feel warm.)

Since the door was warm, the kids were to crawl to a secondary escape. Larry Hainstock, Janesville Fire Department lead inspector, encouraged kids to use teamwork to open the window and help each other out.

From there, children walked down a balcony to the designated meeting place—a telephone outside the house.

Each child practiced calling 911.

On the other end, firefighter Kevin Castro, who has “adopted” Jefferson third-grade classes for seven years, pretended to be an emergency dispatcher. He took notes of how kids did on the phone so he could tell teacher Jennifer Fanning how well her students knew their addresses and how they answered his questions.

How did it go? Even with instructions, many children sat straight up instead of rolling off the bed. Hainstock reminded them they needed to stay low to avoid smoke.

Many children crawled to the closet door to escape rather than the entrance to the room.

One boy hesitated, sensing his classmates were wrong.

“If you know where to go, don’t be afraid,” Hainstock said to the boy. “You want to be a leader! The house is on fire.”

Disorienting smoke

The drill: Learning to deal with disorienting smoke. Firefighters and teachers carefully explained to kids how they would need to crawl from the bedroom, down the stairs and through the living room to the front door.

Hainstock told kids they would have to use their hands to feel the difference between the tile and the carpet to find the front door.

While kids waited upstairs with Hainstock, Castro filled the first floor of the house with fog. Participants literally couldn’t see anything on the first floor.

Adults lined the stairs and helped kids down to Hainstock, who directed kids through the thick fog toward their teacher at the front door.

How did it go? This drill points out how repeat practice is necessary to make an escape route second nature, Hainstock said.

“They can only go down the stairs and straight out,” Hainstock said. “And they won’t know where to go.”

He had to direct about half the kids from the bottom of the steps to the front door.

One child froze on the stairs because she couldn’t see. Hainstock crawled up to help her and followed her to the door.

“You’re doing great,” he said. “I’m right behind you.”

Last updated: 9:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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