'Monster' gives fire tips


The loud "BEEEEEEEP" of the smoke detector jolted awake John Long, who rolled off the bed onto the floor and crawled to the nearest wall to show two kindergarten classes at Freetown Elementary School in Pasadena what to do in case of a fire.

The volunteer firefighter from Armiger crawled to the door of the bedroom set on the stage in the school auditorium and checked it for heat with the back of his right hand. Then he turned to the 38 children watching him and asked, "Do you see what I'm doing?"

If the door is cool, there is no fire outside and the children should run out the door, the 20-year firefighting veteran explained. But if the door is hot, they should either climb out the window or wait for firefighters to arrive, he added.

Mr. Long's program on fire safety for Carol Baker's and Debbie Wooleyhand's classes was part of the county fire department's Fire Prevention Week activities.

Two children in Anne Arundel County were among 14 statewide who died in fires last year, according to Deputy Fire Chief Bob Thomas of the State Fire Marshal's Office.

At Freetown yesterday, the youngsters sat on blue mats as Mr.Long crawled around the set and a smoke generator blew smoke into the room to heighten the effect.

As Mr. Long walked through the steps of what to do, the children answered questions and repeated his instructions.

"What should you do if there's a fire in the house?" Mr. Long asked.

"Dial 9-1-1!" the children screamed in unison.

"What should you do if your clothes are on fire?"

"Stop, drop, and roll!"

Five-year-old Reggie Jackson demonstrated the technique perfectly. The boy, clad in a Charlotte Hornets sweat shirt and pants, dropped to the ground, covered his face with his hands and rolled.

"When I was little, I was in day care, and they taught me that," he said.

Devon Joseph Connor said the technique was important for him and his classmates to learn.

"You shouldn't run because the flames might light you up even more," the five-year-old said.

Mr. Long said the demonstration of the dangers of smoke was important because "people don't die from the flames, they die from the gases and smoke."

And he stressed that children should try not to panic if their house is on fire.

"When children are in a panic mode, they tend to hide in their closets or under their beds," he said. "We don't want them to hide. We want them to get out of the house and go to a neighbor's or friend's house."

Mr. Long said he helps with the fire safety program to help children overcome their initial fear of firefighters, who, he acknowledges, can look very frightening when they are dressed in full gear.

"They think it's Darth Vadar," he said. "We want kids to feel safe and know that we're coming to rescue them. We don't want the kids to be afraid."

Which is why Mr. Long, after he put on the uniform, shook hands with almost all of the children, except for one girl who stared wide-eyed at the mask before her face.

Mr. Long told the children to make sure their parents keep fresh batteries in their smoke detectors and cautioned them not to play with matches and lighters.

Teresa Sloan, 5, said the fire safety tips were well worth learning.

"It's very important because you need to know," she said. "If you drop and roll, you'll get out safely."

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