JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — About a year ago, the Jeffersonville Fire Department responded to a house fire that would inspire how and to who they teach fire safety.

A teenager had been cooking for his siblings when he left the kitchen unattended. Luckily, when the teen noticed a fire had started, he had enough time to get his siblings out of the home.

When firefighters arrived, they were able to contain the fire. Nobody was hurt, but it could have easily gone the other way.

“It all could have been prevented if he would have just stayed in the kitchen to monitor his cooking,” JFD Sgt. Justin Ames said Monday.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the leading cause of fire in the kitchen is unattended cooking. In Jeffersonville, most working structure fire calls are related to fires that originate in the kitchen area, Ames said.

Those kind of realities, along with first-hand experiences, is what inspired Ames and the department to get into the classroom at Jeffersonville High School on Monday. And what better audience than Deanna Owens’ nutrition and wellness students, who use stoves and microwaves to cook inside the classroom about once every week or two.

“I think a lot of the students in this class get really excited whenever we have a kitchen lab, and they like to go home and recreate that dish for their family,” Owens said. “Knowing that’s going to happen over the weekend, over this break for Thanksgiving, I thought it was important for them to be aware of some things.”

Most of the discussion came from students telling their own stories. Several told stories about unattended cooking that led to fire, or about almost-fires caused by putting things like foil and candy wrappers in the microwave.

Along with talking about fire prevention, Ames touched on what to do in the event of a fire. Where is the fire extinguisher located in your home? Do you even have an extinguisher? Is your smoke detector working?

Only a handful of the roughly 30 students raised hands when asked if they had a fire extinguisher inside their home. One student said the extinguisher is located in his basement. After Ames ran a mock scenario that included the student running to the “basement” while a stove fire grew out of control, the point was made: a basement is no place for the sole extinguisher in the house.

Instead he advised students that an extinguisher should be left near an exit, the same direction they’d be heading in the case of a fire. He also reminded them to close doors behind them — whether it’s the stove door where the fire originates or the front door of the home. Doing so helps contain the fire until first responders arrive.

Ames shared a bit of his own story, and the story of his fellow firefighters, to drive the point home. Across the country, first responders are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by what they face on the job. Last year in Jeffersonville alone, four people died in fires, though they weren’t all kitchen-related.

As a firefighter, Ames said, the tragedy “never leaves you.”

That kind of “real talk” led Ames to talk about the heroin epidemic plaguing so many communities across the country. Along with fatal overdoses, intoxication can also lead to fatal fires.

The room of students stilled, becoming the quietest it had been in the hour Ames was there. Ames only wished he had a few more minutes to try to reach students about the dangers of drug abuse.

“… When you start talking about the heroin epidemic, it’s touched everybody in this classroom one way or another,” he said. “So when we have an opportunity just to throw that out there and talk about how real that is and what it does to these first responders and to these families and these children … it really resonates with them.”

Owens said having someone like Ames in the classroom to talk about safety — whether it’s fire safety or staying away from drugs — can have more of an impact than what she and other teachers have.

“It’s one thing to have your teacher talk about that, but to have someone from the community that they look up to with the fire department and come in and be real with them and not have the regiment of the class, it’s kind of a break for them. It’s a welcome change.”

Ames said he hopes he taught students more than just safety. He wanted them to learn how to stand tall, speak up and share their experiences with others.

“Tell your story,” he said. “It’s going to save a life.”


Source: (Jeffersonville) News and Tribune, http://bit.ly/2zUxIRD


Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Jeffersonville) News and Tribune.