Stefani Piasecki, of Bel Air, stood in line on Sunday with her daughters, Avalyn, 4, and Kristalyn, 9, as the girls eagerly waited for a chance to ride on a Level Volunteer Fire Company fire truck.
“Awesome,” Kristalyn said, when asked about her experience at the fire company’s open house, which an estimated 500 to 600 people attended Sunday afternoon.
The open house kicked off Harford County’s observance of National Fire Prevention Week Oct. 8-14, which is held each October. Other local fire companies have similar events scheduled throughout the month, including Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, which will open its main station on Old Mountain Road this Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Kristalyn and Avalyn wore plastic yellow fire helmets, as did the majority of the children at the event.
Their girls’ mother said she learned about the open house through an invitation sent through her daughters’ school; they both attend Prospect Mill Elementary School.
“They were all excited about the fire trucks,” Piasecki said.
Activities took place inside and outside the firehouse, which is in the village of Level about 6 ½ miles west of Havre de Grace.
Attendees could take a ride on a fire truck, which were driven by a fire company member along neighboring roads with the lights flashing and siren screaming, or watch firefighters conduct a drill extinguishing an auto fire and learn how to spray water from a fire hose. They were also able to get identification cards made for children through the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, check out the Sheriff’s Office mobile HOPE House to learn about the signs a loved one is abusing drugs and learn about fire prevention and safety in their homes.
Piasecki said she and her two daughters watched representatives of Harford County’s HAZMAT team demonstrate how they clean up spills of hazardous materials.
“They were both very intrigued,” she said.
“It's good for the kids to sit there and learn about fire safety,” Piasecki said. “If the situation arises, they can definitely take an active role.”
Fire companies hold open house events each year. They are an opportunity for the public and fire company members to interact, to recruit new members and educate the public about fire safety, according to Rhonda Hinch, Level’s fire and injury prevention coordinator and a past assistant chief for the fire company.
Her role involves public outreach, organizing the company’s annual youth safety camp, hosting open houses and visits by school groups.
“Fire prevention really is something you can teach all year long,” Hinch said.
Jake Standiford, 5, whose father, Jeff, is a member of the Level company, pitched in by demonstrating how to use a fire hose and helping other children use the nozzle. He wore a Level fire company T-shirt and child-sized firefighter pants.
“He's here with Jeff all the time,” his mother, Tricia Standiford, said. “In his mind, he's a real fireman.”
Tricia Standiford is a former member of Level company and works now as a 911 dispatcher for Harford County. The Department of Emergency Services was among the organizations present at the open house, along with the Maryland State Police and the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
“We had an awesome turnout today, and I think the little kids coming and learning ... it is what makes the system work,” Standiford said. “It's what keeps the volunteer service going here.”
She also acknowledged the roles children can play in an emergency, such as calling 911.
“It's important for them to know, for sure, because they may be the caller, so the more they know the better it is for everybody involved,” Standiford said.
Benjamin and Georgia Bell, ages 5 and 4, of Aberdeen, got help from Jake Standiford on spraying the fire hose.
Their mother, Kelly Bell, talked about how her children enjoyed their experiences, such as the fire hose, seeing the auto fire fight and riding on the fire truck.
“The fire truck ride, that was a good experience,” Bell said.
Autumn and Mark Spila, of Street, and their sons, Mark, 5, and Patrick, 3, met Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire and his K9 partner, Kachina.
“It’s been fantastic,” Autumn Spila said. “[The boys rode] on the fire truck, and they loved seeing the police dog.”
She said her sons also learned safety tips from firefighters, such as to “stop, drop and roll,” should they be in a fire, plus they got ID cards and were fingerprinted.
There was some additional excitement when the family learned Mark’s name was drawn in a raffle, giving him the chance to be “fire chief” for aday and ride to his school, Dublin Elementary, in a fire truck wearing turnout gear.
Mark said it “feels good” to be fire chief.
Trintan Brown, 5, of Havre de Grace, won the title of “assistant chief” for a day. He will ride to his school, Havre de Grace Elementary, in a fire truck, too.
Hinch said company officials will contact the schools to work out a time for the rides to take place. celebrations.
Crystal Stanley, Trintan’s mother, said she brings him and his siblings to the open house every year.
“It's fun for the kids,” she said. “They like to be here, they like the people, they like firefighters.”
Stanley and her sister, the children’s aunt, Samantha Shaver, discussed the fire safety tips the children have learned, such as how to get out of their house and that there is more than one way to get out.
“They know not to play with fire,” Stanley said.