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BRAD ROBICHAUX — Lessons to learn for Fire Prevention Week

Nederland Fire Chief Terry Morton sent over a few facts about fires in the U.S. in 2017: 1,319,500 fires, 3,400 deaths, 14,670 injuries and $23 billion in property damage.

As Don McLean had sung in “American Pie,” “The fire is the devil’s only friend.”

It doesn’t have to be. A little education can go a long way towards keeping your head cool when fire breaks out.

Area fire departments will partake in a national endeavor to boost knowledge and safety during Fire Prevention Week this week. It was begun to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of Oct. 8-10 in 1817 that killed approximately 300 people, destroyed approximately 3.3 square miles of the city and left hundreds of thousands of people without homes. President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first Fire Prevention Week in 1925.

This year’s theme, “Not every hero wears a cape. Plan and practice your escape,” seems tailored to the sensibilities of our youngest neighbors, and our area fire departments are going to be making the rounds to schools and daycares to get children and students started early in their fire safety education.

“One of the things we’re going to try to do with the really young kids is let them see firemen so they become familiar and won’t get scared of somebody in uniform if something happens,” Port Arthur Fire Marshal D. Paul Washburn said. “We want to teach them a little bit about when to call 911, let them see the firemen so they know these are the guys that come when you call 911, this is how they are going to be dressed.

“The last thing we want them to do is run in the opposite direction or be scared.”

Getting in with children early seems to let the fire safety lessons sink in quite well. Groves Fire Chief Dale Jackson made such an observation.

“The kids remember from year to year growing up, that’s why we hit them at preschool all the way up through elementary,” he said. “And they listen because they know what to do when we ask. They always have the right answers. We know we’re making an impact on them for sure.”

My own nephew’s fondness for all kinds of trucks, including fire trucks, leaves me convinced that these grand displays of firefighting might, equipment, hoses, fiery demonstrations, are an excellent example of how to reach kids and get them to learn what’s most important.

These kids will remember the day they sat behind the wheel of a real fire truck, or wielded a real fire hose, or saw firefighters demonstrate, in a spectacularly explosive way, exactly why they should never use water to put out a grease fire.

They will also take home those most important of lessons that will keep them from being a part of the statistics Fire Chief Morton might send about 2019’s fire fatalities and damages when the time comes again to spread awareness.

Not every hero wears a cape. Sometimes they wear fireproof coats and hats.

Brad Robichaux is a reporter for The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at brad.robichaux@panews.com