SAFE began in 1996 as a state-wide initiative by the Office of State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan of the Department of Fire Services in Stow, Massachusetts. As reported on the DFS website, “The mission is to enable students to recognize the dangers of fire and more specifically the fire hazards tobacco products pose.” Using moneys allocated annually by the Marshal’s office, each participating Massachusetts fire department is encouraged to offer its own unique program, designed to meet local needs. In addition, programs must address core objectives as established by the Marshal’s office. Because of the flexible nature of this system, there are literally several hundred “versions” of SAFE across the Commonwealth.
You can find out a little more about the history of our program on the History Page.
The SAFE program is offered each year to the 4th grades in Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury. Amherst firefighters serve as primary instructors, several having completed training by the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in public safety education. Firefighters in Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury assist during lessons as their time allows.
The program consists of 5 distinct seminars (primarily using Microsoft Powerpoint) and a graduation ceremony.
LESSON 1 - Fire Behavior and Home Escape Planning
It is NEVER the intention of this program or its instructors to frighten children about the nature of fire, and the information in this lesson is by NO MEANS designed to elicit a fear response. Frightened children do not escape home fires, that’s a fact. Instead, we teach strategies to escape fires. The information is intended to highlight how little time may remain for escape once a smoke detector sounds. While most adults believe that they have 5 minutes or more to react when they hear a smoke detector sound, the truth is that they may less than 1-2 minutes to safely escape. It’s not the fire that represents the initial danger; it’s the smoke. We discuss that danger and enforce that it is not possible to find a safe place to hide within a house fire.
For more information regarding our approach to teaching concepts about fire education, please review our Philosophy.
During the first lesson, we discuss the true nature of fire in a confined space like a house. Students are shown a real-time video of a fire that starts in a wastebasket and eventually grows out of control within just a few minutes.
Sample of a home escape plan
We follow this video immediately with specific steps that the students can take to safely escape a fire in their own homes. We discuss the importance of working smoke detectors. We point out that they should pre-plan a fire in their home and that they are capable of doing so. They should identify two ways out of every room. We offer additional actions to take if they cannot safely escape, such as when a main stairway may be blocked by fire or smoke. We demonstrate that an escape ladder may be a lifesaving option for 2-3 story homes. We explain the need for a meeting place away from the house where the family knows to gather. We emphasize that someone must call the fire department and that no one should re-enter the building for any reason. We also talk to the students about their pets.
Next, students are shown how to design a fire escape plan. The plan is a simple floor plan of the student’s house showing two ways out of each room and an outside meeting place. We introduce EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home), an acronym adopted many years ago by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). After all, it is ultimately useless to have an escape plan if the family never practices it.
At the end of the lesson, students are given an assignment to draw a plan of their own home to submit the following week. The students are encouraged to seek the help of an adult in the home to work on the project. In this way, the student and the adult can work through potential problems (such as dealing with windows that do not open).
This lesson focuses upon general safety in the home, not just fire safety. One of the most important parts of this lesson is being able to answer the students’ many “What if…?” questions: “What if my sister smokes in her room?” “What if my Dad keeps gasoline in the basement where the furnace is?” This is our opportunity as fire/safety professionals to work with the students and to offer recommendations as they come to understand the practical nature of safety; namely, that they can take steps personally to make their family safer.
Dangers in the home
We begin by examining a series of scenarios/photos and identifying the potential hazards of each, such as keeping sharp objects and matches out of the hands of small children, handling hot pot handles while cooking, and simple steps to take to put out stovetop fires. We discuss why Stop-Drop-And-Roll works. In highlighting basic electrical safety, we show the students actual items which have contributed to the start of a fire. These items include light fixtures, candle remnants and various electrical devices. We also review the proper handling and storage of hazardous chemicals and cleaning supplies in the home.
At the end of the lesson, students are given their second assignment: a simple inspection form along with a checklist of hazards one might find in each kind of room in the home. The students are asked to walk around their home with another member of the family and identify possible problems. If any are found, they are encouraged to correct the problem themselves, if possible, or to bring the problem to the attention of an adult.
The improper disposal of tobacco products remains the single largest contributing cause of fatal home fires EVERY YEAR! Further, it has been shown that tobacco use constitutes a danger not only to the user’s health but also to the health of members of the same household. Most importantly, 25% of all smokers admit to having begun to use tobacco before the age of 12 (50% before they were 14!!) Clearly, the point at which to begin tobacco education is BEFORE the decision to smoke is made.
The dangers of tobacco use are not a new subject to the students in 4th grade. They have undoubtedly been exposed to health and educational materials about smoking. However, the review of this subject at this point spotlights the fire danger that smoking represents. It further allows the students to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject while stressing their own personal commitments to remain tobacco-free.
We begin the lesson by examining what constitutes tobacco use. We identify it as the single most preventable cause of fatal fires in the home; we refer to several fatal fires of this nature in the Amherst area. We ask the students to identify the reasons why anyone would start smoking. We discuss roles that social pressures and advertising play in this decision-making. We present information using statistics about the causes and outcomes of smoking. [The presentation of information in pie charts and graphs ties in to a math requirement at this grade level.]
We next discuss addiction and the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Students are shown how to help smokers combat tobacco use in a strictly positive manner using a variety of goal-oriented strategies and encouragement techniques.
The most effective way for any student to retain new information is by actually “doing.” The purpose of the SAFE trailer is to reinforce the previous lessons and to provide a practical component to previous information. We also find that this is an opportunity to teach the students about how the 911 system works and how to properly make an emergency call by phone.
Instructor demonstrates an emergency call to 911
For this lesson, the class is divided in half: one half the students go out to the SAFE trailer (which is brought to each school) and the other half of the students remain in the classroom to learn about 911. After about ½ hour, the students are switched.
Students are brought into the trailer and asked to identify the hazards presented in several carefully designed displays emphasizing the information in Lesson 2.
The students are also brought into the bedroom and practice a simulated “escape” from a house fire. A white, non-toxic “smoke” is introduced and the students practice “escaping” the smoke, following the steps outlined in their very first class. In this way, we ensure that even if the students have not yet practiced a home escape plan for that first lesson, they are able to practice it during this lesson.
In the classroom, students learn how the Amherst Communications Center works. Using a functioning mock up, the students are given emergency scenarios and practice making an emergency phone call to 911.
Graduation from this program serves several purposes but only one is paramount: that this information may someday save a life. The graduation ceremony acknowledges the importance of these lessons and recognizes the students’ new role as fire safety advocates.
Each student’s entire family (as well as any special guests he or she might bring) are welcome. Prior to the actual ceremony, there is a “Safety Fair.” It usually begins about 6 p.m. There are displays about smoke detectors, carbon monoxide, fire extinguishers, calling 911 for help, street address numbering, tobacco education, fire department history and refreshments. Smokey Bear usually joins us as well! It’s worth coming to enjoy!
Following the fair, students will join their classmates in an auditorium. There are a usually several short speeches and a presentation summarizing the program. Each student is called up with classmates to receive a token of their success: a T-shirt acknowledging him or her as a graduate of the program and a certificate.
There will likely be awards to several students who have demonstrated an exceptional understanding of the purposes or lessons of the program. It moves quickly; the entire ceremony will last about 1 hour.