Monday, October 12, 2015

Fire Education Saves Lives

Brevard County Fire Rescue Inspectors 
Show Students How to Prevent and Put Out Fires

In 1944, Smokey the Bear began promoting fire prevention and soon became famous for its simple but powerful declaration, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires."

Nearly three-quarters of a century later, fire prevention remains an urgent public safety topic...and not just in a forest.

Fire not only destroys property, it hurts and kills people. According to statistics cited from Fire Loss in the United States 2013 (by Michael Karter), in the United States alone, 369,500 home fires were reported in 2013. The fires resulted in 2,755 deaths, 12,200 injuries, and $6.8 billion of property damage.

While all teachers at Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School always have student safety at the forefront of their thinking, no one is more committed to making sure students are safe at and away from school than cooking teacher Mrs. Dana Michell. She implores her students to take extra safety precautions when cooking, and to be prepared to swiftly and skillfully manage any unexpected fires in the kitchen.

Why all the fuss about cooking safety? The kitchen is the most common origin of home fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report, Home Fires Involving Cooking Equipment (by Marty Ahrens), "Cooking is, and has long been, the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries."

Mrs. Michell knows education can help prevent fires from starting and keep fires that do start under control so that lives are saved and property damage is minimized. Refusing to allow her students to become a statistic, she recently welcomed two Brevard County Fire Rescue Inspectors/Arson Investigators, Mr. Jeffrey Krupinski and Mr. Tony Mills, to her classroom to provide students with an interactive, hands-on lesson that could wind up saving their lives or the lives of their loved ones.

In addition to educating the public on smoke detector awareness during Fire Prevention Week, these fire experts volunteered their time to address Mrs. Michell's students. They presented a PowerPoint on kitchen safety, showed a video on the potential dangers of cooking with grease, and covered a wide range of topics related to fire prevention and preparation. While every topic provided vital safety tips, the primary objective of the lesson was to teach students how to use a fire extinguisher.

"I honestly had no clue how to use one," said Travis Berry, a junior who plays on the varsity football team.

Travis is not alone. While fire extinguishers are prevalent in kitchens and buildings around the nation, very few people actually know how to properly use onea torching thought considering what is at stake.

"We all grow up with fire extinguishers all around us, but 9 out of 10 people have never held one, much less deployed it to extinguish a fire," said Inspector Krupinsky.

Fire Inspector/Arson Investigator Jeffrey Krupinsky helped teach students
basic techniques of using a fire extinguisher to put out fires.

"They showed us how to use a fire extinguisher," said Travis. "It was pretty cool. It was an electrical one, same weight and everything. It had a laser instead of a spray to it. The best part was learning how to put out a fire the right way."

"We received the simulator through a federal grant," said Inspector Krupinsky. "We have the ability to use a digital laser or we can also do live burns with propane and use a fire extinguisher with water. It is too hot to be messing with fire outside, especially during the summer and fall, so it is better to use the digital indoor simulator. The simulator we used in the classroom was a digital laser one."

Travis has a deep-rooted appreciation for the jobs paramedics and firefighters do. "My girlfriend's father is a paramedic in Merritt Island," said Travis. "He is one of the first responders. He tells me being a firefighter is a pretty cool job. He said the hardest part is getting a call in the middle of the night, swinging out of bed from a deep sleep, and jumping into the fire truck to go respond, but he loves it."

He also appreciates the time the Brevard County Fire Rescue inspectors take out of their busy schedules to help educate the community on the basics of fire prevention and crisis management. "I think it's smart teaching students these techniques," said Travis. "Firefighters can't go to everyone's homes to educate everybody. You don't want someone dying of a fire because they don't know how to put it out, so educating us and encouraging us to educate others helps save lives."

"We hope at this age, the students have the ability to go home and share that information with siblings and parents," said Inspector Krupinksy. "We told them, our job is to educate you and your job is to go and educate others, whether it is a parent or a sibling or a friend."

What did Travis learn that he would like to pass along to his fellow students and families around the community? "Just remember the four easy steps: pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep."

"PASS is a simple acronym on how to use a fire extinguisher," said Inspector Krupinsky. "Pull the pin. Aim the fire extinguisher hose at the base of the fire. Squeeze the handle. Sweep it back and forth at the base of the fire. It shoots a very fine powder that sticks to everything. As you are building fine layers of powder, you are cutting the fire off from the oxygen around it. Without oxygen, the fire goes out."

Years of responding to fire-related incidents, and seeing so many accidents and tragedies that could have been prevented, make Inspectors Krupinsky and Mills the perfect teachers to help students understand the basics of both preventing and putting out fires.

Inspector Krupinsky said, "As firefighters, we have responded to numerous kitchen fires. As paramedics, we have responded to numerous calls that would have turned out better if it had been handled with proper techniques. We try to teach students the proper techniques to fire prevention and handling a fire extinguisher. To do anything for the first time in a stressful situation is very difficult, so practice is important. You have a sense of not panicking if you've done it before. Like riding a bike, once you learn how to do it, you'll remember."

Inspector Mills, who has over 25 years of experience as a firefighter and paramedic, reflected upon the successful visit to Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School by deferring all kudos to his colleague. "The credit goes to Inspector Krupinksy. He does the fire extinguisher classes. He also covers the hazards of cooking."

To Inspector Krupinsky, teaching fire prevention is about making life safer for others. "We always like to teach," he said. "That's part of our job now. It's that time of the year for us to get out in the public and educate them." 

In addition to these and other duties, Inspector Krupinsky also teaches adults in the community to help them receive annual certification for various businesses and professions that require teachers or staff members to be certified, such as daycare positions.  

What does Inspector Krupinksy hope students will best remember about the lesson? "Be proactive instead of reactive," he said. "If you are frying, be prepared for what could happen. Never, ever put water on a grease fire. You will steam-burn yourself with oil. Have a pot holder for the pot handle and a tight-fitting lid that fits the pot or pan that you're frying in. That way, if you do have a fire, all you need to do is to remove the pot from the heat source and put a lid on it, and the fire goes away. What we're doing is taking the oxygen away from the fire, and it goes out."

Throwing water on a grease fire can result in serious injury or death. Grease is so hot
that it will instantly heat the water and cause an explosion that will spread the fire.

"Be proactive and prepared for what might happen," said Inspector Krupinsky. "A lot of times, it goes from a controllable situation to an uncontrollable situation when you aren't prepared, so go home and make sure mom and dad have a lid for whatever pot or pan they are using."

"I especially wanted students to know the dangers of frying and cooking with hot grease," said Mrs. Michell. "The fire inspectors covered that perfectly."

Other safety tips for cooking? "Turn your handles in over the stove," said Inspector Krupinsky. "At home, if you leave a little handle out, a younger brother or sister might see it and pull it down. As a paramedic who has responded to calls like that, you don't want to live with knowing you could have prevented an accident or tragedy from happening."

An understanding of the different types of fires is also helpful as some fire extinguishers are only made specifically to put out certain types of fires. Inspector Krupinsky said, "An 'A' fire is anything that produces ash such as paper or wood; a 'B' fire is boiling-related, a liquid burning fire; and a 'C' fire has a current. What we have at schools are A-B-C extinguishers, so they are safe to use on all fires."

Hopefully, incorporating the lessons they learned from the fire inspectors into their cooking routines will help students and their families prevent kitchen fires. In a worst-case scenario, they will now be prepared with proper firefighting techniques.

As Smokey the Bear might say, "Only YOU can prevent kitchen fires...but if one breaks out, don't PASS on the chance to put it out."

To read about all of the ways Brevard County Fire Rescue is helping to keep families across Brevard safe, visit their homepage at BCFR.

To learn more about NFPA's Fire Prevention Week, visit NFPA.

Stay current with Space Coast Jr./Sr. High at Space Coast Edline.

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