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Fire prevention themes driven home

Del Sprecher shows Katie Haney’s kindergarten class the fire engines at the West Fargo Fire Department on Thursday, Oct. 3. Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service

“Prevent Kitchen Fires” is the message being driven home to hundreds of students in the West Fargo School District as members of the West Fargo Fire Department conduct special tours and make classrooms visits from now into November in an effort to spread the word about fire prevention practices in conjunction with National Fire Prevention Week Oct. 6-12.

Fire Inspection Officer and Captain Kendel Frost and Fire Inspection Officer and Assistant Fire Chief Dell Sprecher provided kindergarten tours all last week at the main fire station at 108 1st St., also showing off and explaining the fire gear and some of the equipment and trucks. Sparky the Fire Dog Robot, the department mascot, is also making special appearances throughout the presentations, sharing his own special safety message.

An ongoing part of fire prevention week activity has been education in the classroom with the length of activity necessitated by the growing number of students in the West Fargo School District and the ability to pay visits to all the intended classrooms.

Frost and Sprecher will spend several weeks visiting first, second and third grade classrooms featuring movies and discussion focusing on fire safety. Sparky will be part of this action in the first grade classrooms and third graders will learn about and see firsthand some of the special fire gear.

All the sessions emphasize the importance of changing batteries in smoke detectors, with the recommendation it be done in conjunction with changing clock batteries using the start and end of daylight savings time as the benchmark. They also encourage: making sure there is a smoke alarm outside each sleeping area and on each additional level of the home; using the test button to check each smoke alarm once a month; never removing or disabling a smoke alarm; replacing the battery immediately, if an alarm “chirps,” warning the battery is low; vacuuming any dust that may accumulate on your smoke alarm monthly; and entirely replacing smoke alarms at least every ten years because they become less sensitive over time.

Both Sprecher and Frost say the programming is always very-well received by the students, who like to take it home and share with family members, which is highly touted.

“The kids are very attentive when we go in,” Frost said. “They are happy to see firemen and learn what they do. We always hear good feedback from parents and that’s great because we always tell the students to go home and share what they’ve learned. We really try to hit home that fact and tell them to get the batteries changed. Parents always tell us how excited there kids are about the information when they come in for special events. It’s good that we are getting that feedback because we know that our program is still working fluently so that is a great thing.”

Since preventing fires in the kitchen is this year’s theme, part of the discussion has also been focusing on that area including unattended cooking and other unsafe kitchen practices.

According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), cooking happens to be the leading cause of home fires. The latest statistics from NFPA say U.S. Fire Departments responded to an estimated annual average of 156,600 cooking-related fires between 2007-2011.

The message being presented is — all it takes is a few minutes for a fire start — so there is no safe period of time for someone cooking to leave the kitchen. Too many homes are destroyed and people killed or injured by fires that could have been easily avoided.

In an effort to be proactive in preventing such fires both Frost and Sprecher advise a little extra caution. Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, or broiling food; if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove; if you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly; remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking; and keep anything that can catch fire – oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains –away from your stovetop. Also maintain a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.

In addition to these topics being addressed on the elementary levels, fire department staff is reaching out even further to the younger children, conducting preschool and daycare visits as part of the fire prevention discussion activities. Special sessions for these groups were held in late September and others are planned the end of this month for any groups who would like to participate. Those wishing to schedule a tour or have a classroom visit are encouraged to call 433-5380.

Sprecher said that fire prevention time is always hectic but one that is looked forward by fire department personnel. “The students are always eager to learn so that makes it all the more enjoyable.”

The West Fargo Fire Department is staffed by three full-time employees, Frost and Sprecher, Fire Chief Roy Schatscheider, and 40 volunteer firefighters.