Firefighters with puppets visit elementary schools and daycare centers during National Fire Prevention Week in the Town of Dillon to teach children the importance of fire drills, match safety, emergency meeting places, and to stop, drop and roll if clothing is on fire.
City of Camden firefighters used clown skits to teach safety lessons.
"It takes us about seven days to visit everyone," said Dillon Fire Chief Keith Bailey. "We normally start at the elementary schools at 8:30 in the mornings, and we are usually done by noon each day."
Firefighters, dressed in personal protective equipment and their self-contained breathing apparatus and mask, also show the children their firefighting equipment.
National Fire Prevention Association's fire safety week is October 8 - 14, although departments spend all year teaching fire safety, inspecting structures and training staff. Last year, South Carolina suffered 77 fire fatalities, according to the Office of State Fire Marshal. As of August, 70 lives in the state had been lost to fire.
In the City of Laurens, Fire Chief Bill Hughes said the department works to achieve a high Insurance Services Office rating, in part, by putting fire safety tips in customers' utility bills and sending a firefighter to speak about fire safety at apartment buildings, industrial plants, retirement communities and schools.
ISO's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule evaluates four categories of fire suppression — fire department, emergency communications, water supply and community risk reduction.
"We try to document (community risk reduction activities) to show the closest we can get to 100 percent of the population," said Hughes of the department's public education efforts.
For fire safety week, Laurens Fire Department officials go through their municipal checklist to make sure they are completing it. The department checks city buildings twice a year, which is also part of the ISO point system, along with annual safety inspections of the 750 - 800 occupied buildings in the city. Safety checks include exit lights, fire extinguishers, emergency lights if required, proper storage of hazardous chemicals and occupancy limits.
Safety week is also typically when the Laurens Fire Department visits schools, said Hughes.
This year, the Camden Fire Department won a Municipal Achievement Award for its troop of firefighters who dress up as clowns — Nozzle, Flame and Snorkel — and perform skits with safety lessons in schools, retirement homes and other venues. The group emphasizes the importance of a home escape plan, staying low to avoid heat and smoke, convening at a meeting place away from the fire, never returning to a burning building and the importance of working, up-to-date smoke alarms.
"How do you know kids are retaining this information? Give teachers a survey. Ask them to give us their honest opinion of the program and help us change it to what it needs to be," said Caitlin Young, Camden's assistant city manager, during the city's Achievement Award presentation.
At least one family has been helped. A 13-year-old girl was home with her brother and an 83-year-old relative, when the stove ignited a pan of grease. The teen got everyone out of the home and to a central meeting place, actions she said she learned from the clowns who visited her school.
Want to learn more? On October 25, the Advanced Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government Fall Session will offer the course, "Public Safety Policy and Administration," focusing on police, fire and municipal court policies, best practices and operations. For more information, go to www.masc.sc (keyword: advanced MEO).