As I watch the nightly news or read the newspapers these days, I see an alarming trend. There are far too many tragic headlines involving children and fire. Each year, hundreds of young lives are lost, because children do not know the basics of what to do when faced with a fire emergency.
As the son and grandson of volunteer firefighters, fire safety has always been very important to me. As a father now myself, I am always concerned about the safety of my own three daughters. And as Chairman of the Fire Safety Commission, I am especially sensitive to fire safety issues throughout the state.
Since I was first appointed to the Fire Safety Commission in 1996 a lot has changed in the way we prepare for and face fires. Over time, research and experience have provided us with new information and technologies that have helped us find more ways to fight fires effectively and better protect ourselves, our families, our homes and the firefighters who risk their lives to protect us. But in some ways, it is these very advances that may be giving us a false sense of security when it comes to real fire safety education. Perhaps we have become too complacent that these technologies will protect us, even though the rising statistics seem to prove otherwise.
Recently, I have been working with noted fire safety expert and lecturer, Dr. Frank Field. Dr. Field created an educational series of videos on fire safety called “Fire Is…” – to improve young students’ awareness and understanding of fire emergencies. Together we have been visiting local schools to speak with students and educators about the need for expanded fire safety education in the classroom.
During these visits we have found that, most children, and even some adults, when asked what they should do in the event of a fire will respond “stop, drop and roll.” And while that advice does have a certain euphony to it and is particularly useful if you yourself are on fire, it does not instruct you on what you should do if you find yourself in a real life and death situation. Because fires and burns are the 5th most common cause of unintentional injury and deaths in the United States we need to take a closer look at how we are teaching fire safety in New Jersey’s schools.
The state’s core curriculum standards mandate educating our children about fire safety, among other things. But this mandate isn’t often translated into effective instruction. For example, schools are required to have twice monthly fire drills. And while that is important in safeguarding our children at school, most fire injuries and fatalities occur at home. A fire drill in school doesn’t teach a student about what to do if they are awakened by the blaring of a smoke detector.
We need to make sure that all our schools have the educational tools they need to teach our children how to effectively protect themselves and their families from this all-too-real danger. In addition to what children are already being taught, we need to communicate some of the basic facts of fire education that can save lives and prevent injuries. The goal here is to work with school and fire officials and the Commissioner of Education to determine what can be done to add an even stronger, more focused, program to the schools existing curriculum. One that is not only educational, but serious and age appropriate.
It also appears that in an effort to keep fire safety fun, we are failing to get the real message across. Something this important should not be left up to chance. We need to improve on how we teach our children about fire safety so that the first thing they think of in a fire situation isn’t just ‘Stop, Drop and Roll.’
I recently held a roundtable meeting on this topic that included Dr. Frank Field; commissioner of the state Department of Education, Lucille Davy; president of the New Jersey Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association (NJFMBA), William Lavin and other education and fire officials. We all agreed how important it is that this subject be readdressed.
This first step is a small part in an even larger effort we need to undertake on behalf of our safety and the future of our children. I will continue to work closely with these officials on a practical fire safety education program that will not only educate children, but ensure parents, school officials, and community leaders are involved in the process.
I believe that stronger fire-safety education in our schools, would give our children a better understanding of the very real dangers they face, help them make the right decisions when confronted with a fire and most importantly, keep them from becoming one of the headlines.
For more information on fire safety legislation or programs in the state, please contact my legislative office at (732) 316-1885 or visit my web site: www.assemblymanwisniewski.com.