Fire safety a serious side to fall festival in Arbutus

The firetruck's door opened and Brandon Nagel, 7, came bounding out onto the parking lot on Southwestern Boulevard.

"That was totally awesome," he yelled. "I was talking to the people in the back of the fire truck!"

Free rides in the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department's firetruck were just one of the highlights for young visitors during the Oct. 13 Child Safety and Fall Festival.

The popular festival's main focus was on children's safety, and one of the department's goals was to teach youth — and adults, too — what to do in the event of a fire.

"Everybody will learn something," said Charlie Deavers, a firefighter. "It's a good thing to do because you see decreases in fatalities in fire because people are getting educated."

Paul Melvin, a Catonsville career fireman who also serves as a volunteer with the Arbutus department, explained the role of each part of a firefighter's uniform as he put it on, from his steel-toe boots to his hat and respirator.

Everything, he said, has to be zipped, snapped and closed with Velcro in place in two minutes.

"A lot of kids get so scared," Melvin said, of the imposing looking uniform. "We want them to see what it looks like so if there happens to be a fire, they won't run from us."

The festival provided a fitting conclusion to Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 7-13.

Several classes toured the fire house throughout the week, and firefighters visited local schools, Melvin said.

Youth were reminded to regularly change their smoke detectors' batteries; to stop, drop and roll if on fire; to have two escape routes in a home and to have a meeting place outside of a home.

"It is very important to learn about fire safety," Melvin said.

During Saturday's festival, youth had the opportunity to be fingerprinted and given IDs from Maryland Children's Health Insurance Program (C.H.I.P.).

Angela Anderson had taken advantage of the opportunity to have her children provided with an ID during last year's festival. This year, she brought her sister-in-law along with 6-month-old twins.

"I think it is a wonderful thing," said Lisa Cotton, who traveled from Glen Burnie to have the twins fingerprinted. "They give you a disc with all the information."

The department's parking lot was filled with fall fun, too, including a petting zoo, a moon bounce and a variety of games and other activities.

"I think it was super," said Kari German, who was attending with her four children and husband. "The kids got to see and explore what they [firefighters] really do and they enjoyed it."

Alex Gibson, of Halethorpe, brought his family to learn safety and to support the department.

"It is a very, very tough job," Gibson said of a firefighter's job. "They don't get recognized enough. It's a great thing. ...people coming out to support the fire department."

For many firefighters, the job is full of rewards.

"It's not about getting a paycheck," Melvin said on being a firefighter. "When you have a kid tell you you're a hero, that's the best thing in the world."

Arbutus was not the only area volunteer fired department that offered special educational activities during Fire Prevention Week.

Students at Baltimore Highlands Elementary School, for example, learned about fire prevention and safety thanks to a weeklong program in conjunction with the English Consul Volunteer Fire Department.

Firefighters brought the unit's safety trailer to the school on Annapolis Road for the week for students in each grade level to visit.

Kindergarten students also visited the fire house at 2827 Michigan Avenue to learn from firefighters about fire prevention and safety, view antique fire department items, learn about different types of extinguishers, try on the firefighters' gear and receive fire prevention and safety materials.

Students and older residents were also invited to visit the department's social hall and fire house to learn tips about fire prevention and safety during the week.

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