For kindergartners, very few things are better than recess.
But the visit from the Janesville Fire Department ranks right up there in the catalog of amazing events for 4- and 5-year-olds. It’s like ice cream. Or stickers.
On a recent Wednesday, the fire department visited Washington Elementary School. It’s an annual event that takes place after one of the school’s monthly fire drills. Along with the drill, firefighters performed a brief inspection of the school.
All members of Washington’s 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten classrooms gathered in front of a big fire truck. The children sat surprisingly quiet, as though the sight of the engine truck had overwhelmed their senses.
But not for long. When firefighter Dan Benz asked them how they were doing, he got an exuberant response.
“I’m still on green!” shouted Niles, a student in Stacy Glowacki’s class.
Being “still on green” means a student is “making good choices.” That’s kindergarten-speak for behaving yourself.
Every year, the fire department makes an effort to hold safety presentations at all the public and private 4- and 5-year old kindergartens and nursery schools, Janesville Fire Department Lt. Ron Sagen said.
It seems to have paid off, as Wednesday’s group was familiar with the questions and the answers.
Benz asked what number to call in case of a fire. The group chorused “911” at the top of their tiny lungs.
Should they ever go back into a house for a pet or another person?
“Noooooo,” they chorused.
What should they do if there is smoke?
This brought a variety of responses with the correct answer being, “Crawl under it.”
Benz instructed fellow firefighter Tony Schwegel to don his turnout gear—his firefighting outfit—piece by piece: boots, pants with suspenders, coat, gloves, jacket, hood, helmet and oxygen tank.
Schwegel crawled through the pack of kindergarteners, giving them an up-close look at his gear.
The exercise wasn’t just for fun, said Sagen. During a fire, kids sometimes take refuge under a bed or in a closet.
“If you see us in your house, don’t be afraid,” Benz told the kids. “We’re here to help you.”
Benz reminded kids that both boys and girls could become firefighters.
Finally—joy of joys—the students got to climb up the big stairs into the back of the truck and come out the other side.
After his trip through the truck, Blaine sidled up to Sagen to tell him a story.
“Once the popcorn started on fire at my house,” Blaine told Sagen. “My dad blew it out.”
Sagen said that was good but added that children should never try to put a fire out by themselves.
“Yeah,” said Blaine, looking longingly at the fire engine.
To end the session, Sagen handed out junior firefighter stickers. Then the fire engine left the school grounds with its lights flashing, siren wailing and horn honking.
It might have been better than recess.