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Fire Safety a Hot Topic at Meadow Pond Elementary

LEWISBORO, N.Y. – Smoke filled one of the rooms at Meadow Pond Elementary School as fifth grade students crawled on their hands and knees across the floor before making it to a window where they climbed out and into the arms of waiting firefighters.

No one was in danger. It was all just a drill. The smoke was theatrical smoke produced by a machine.

It was all a part of the annual fire education program orchestrated by Fire District Manager Tom Ritchey and members of the Vista Fire Department. Ritchey said the school has been a great partner in promoting fire safety to the children by allowing the department to talk to each class individually over a period of four days.

“It takes much more time to put on the program, but the kids get more out of it because the size is manageable,” he said. “We speak to the kindergarten class each day for about 15 minutes, then we spend about 40 minute in each of the other classes. Then each grade level has a different activity. In first grade we go out and look at the fire truck; second grade they practice stop, drop and roll, and third graders practice knowing two ways out of each room and actually climb out their classroom window.”

Ritchey teaches the fourth graders about the different types of fire extinguishers and how to use one. Each student actually gets to try one out. With the fifth grade, Ritchey reviews what they’ve learned in previous years and then takes them through the smoke room.

“The smoke room puts all of what they’ve learn [in past years] together,” he said.

One aspect of fire safety that Ritchey stressed with the fifth graders was smoke detectors. He explained how they should be tested and cleaned and have the batteries changed regularly.

After watching a video of how a fire starts and spreads, Ritchey peppered the class with questions. “How do you check a door to see if there is a fire on the other side?” he asked.

Hands shot up. One student knew that you used the back of your hand to feel if it is hot. Ritchey also warned that students that once you escape from a burning building, you don’t go back inside for any reason.

“You don’t go back in for pets,” he said. “I know that sounds sad, but wait for the fire department to get there and then tell them that there are pets inside. We’ve rescued dogs, cats and gerbils and even, one time, a snake.”

Meadow Pond Principal Carolann Castellano stood nearby, watching her students perform the smoke room drill. “[The fire safety program] is very well received and really prepares the kids in a meaningful way,” she said.

Ritchey said not all schools would be so accommodating as to let the fire department set up a smoke room and drill the kids. “We are lucky here at Meadow Pound that they allow us to do this and let [the students] go through it,” he said.

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