Unlike some of his young pals in École Iona’s kindergarten, Robert doesn’t come out of the Montreal Fire Safety Department trailer saying “That’s so cool!” Instead, he’s a bit shaken up. “I’ve already seen a fireman-in my house, because there was no water and no lights. Everyone was outside. I was very scared,” he recalls.
One by one, the children climb down a ladder from the second storey of the trailer, which has been transformed into a fire-scene-simulator “house.” They had just crawled across a smoke-filled room (thanks to a smoke machine). This was a hands-on lesson that followed some basic education about fire safety, conducted in the house’s “living room.”
“What should you do if you find matches? What should you do if the smoke detector goes off?” fireman/teacher Michel Desjardins asks the children. In addition, he shows them how to use the palm of a hand to detect a fire on the other side of a door, and he instructs them about the dangers in a kitchen. “Should you use a knife to pull out a slice of bread that’s stuck in the toaster?” he asks.
In unison, the kids yell “No!”
Desjardins also teaches the youngsters how to practise an evacuation plan, and to protect their faces and roll on the ground if their clothes catch fire. “I try to make them laugh, to get them to participate and, above all, I try to be logical with them. Kids want to know the why of things.”
About ten years ago, the public-education section of the Montreal Fire Safety Department acquired a used trailer and transformed it into this fire-scene simulator. Every year, more than 8,000 children between the ages of three and eight get to visit it at their preschools, elementary schools or day camps, or at block parties.
“Our work is primarily about education, even more than prevention,” says Desjardins. “The child of today is the adult of tomorrow.”
Every year 67 percent of fires in Montreal are directly linked to human behaviour, and certain habits may be hard to break. “Some people tell us that they’ve been doing the same thing for 25 or 30 years, and that nothing has ever happened,” says Lieut. Nathalie Ménard of the public-education section. Often, after a visit to the simulator house, it’s the children who get their parents to change their ways.
According to Robert’s kindergarten teacher, Monique Brayotel, teaching fire prevention to kids is very effective. “Often, children see what adults don’t. And they are really good at alerting others to danger. I’m convinced we can count on them more than one would think.”