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Passing on fire safety lessons

Orange was the color of the day Friday at Solon Springs School. Students in kindergarten through grade five all wore bright orange shirts, proclaiming Solon Springs Fire Safety Day 2016.

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Volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician Tony Orlandi, right, describes tools used by the Solon Springs Volunteer Fire Department to first graders from Chris Willis’ class Friday in the parking lot of Solon Springs School. Students also received T-shirts and smoke detectors as part of the annual Fire Safety Day event. Maria Lockwood

Orange was the color of the day Friday at Solon Springs School. Students in kindergarten through grade five all wore bright orange shirts, proclaiming Solon Springs Fire Safety Day 2016.

"A herd of little pumpkins," said Fire Chief John Walt as Chris Willis' first graders filed past him on their way to the smoke house.

Every year, members of the Solon Springs Volunteer Fire Department visit the school to emphasize fire safety and review what to do in an emergency.

"This is the most important thing to me being a firefighter," said Assistant Fire Chief Jonathon Brostowitz. "I can't stress fire safety and prevention to these kids and their families enough. We can always replace homes; we cannot replace anyone's life."

This year's main message was the fact that, like food in your refrigerator, smoke alarms have an expiration date. Every 10 years, alarms need to be replaced. It's a fact that even caught experts by surprise.

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"This smoke alarm is from 2000," Brostowitz said, holding it up in front of a third grade class. "Sixteen years old, and this came out of a firefighter's house yesterday."

The manufacturing date of a smoke alarm can be found on the back while performing a monthly battery check.

At the end of each presentation, students were given a free smoke alarm to take home compliments of Enbridge. The energy company also provided a $1,000 Safe Community grant to cover the cost of the T-shirts.

"It's a great way to get the safety message out," said Laura Kircher with Enbridge. She spent the morning at the school with the firefighters handing out water bottles, safety booklets and 160 alarms.

Brostowitz applied for the grant after Kircher mentioned it during a pipeline safety presentation to the department. In addition to helping him fill out the online grant applications, Kircher secured regional funding for the smoke alarms.

"Laura went above and beyond to help us," Brostowitz said, extending a big thank you to Enbridge.

Students reacted to Friday's fire safety presentation with curiosity and enthusiasm.

"The fire truck! One of their fire trucks!" a first grader called to his classmates as they walked toward the vehicles.

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The students passed a nozzle around and peered at a Halligan bar held by volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician Tony Orlandi. They practiced crawling low beneath smoke to check if a door was hot, and exiting through a window. Walt told them that if their home was on fire, they should get out of the house and meet at a safe place. Don't go back into the house for anything.

"What about our dog?" asked first grader Carla Little.

"Nope," Walt said. "That's our job, not your job."

In the classroom, Douglas County Communications Center Supervisor Danielle Miller provided tips for calling 911.

"I hope none of you have to call us," she said, before walking them through the process.

Second grader Jason Ondrik used a practice phone to call Miller while his classmates watched.

"I don't know my address, I just know where I live," he told her. "I live next to Katie."

Miller asked him what town he lived in, and told students how to find their fire number. She left the children with homework - write their phone number and address on one of the handouts they received and hang it on their refrigerator for easy access.

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Due to the popularity of cell phones, Miller reminded students that they have to hit the call button to send their 911 call. She told them that even if a phone is locked, you can still use it to dial 911. It's also important for children to know where to find a phone if they need to make an emergency call, Brostowitz said.

Teachers appreciated the event, which has been a staple at the school for at least 35 years.

"I think it's a good thing, especially for the little ones because it's probably something that they haven't experienced before," said Lori Deming, a substitute teacher. "By the time they get into the fifth grade, they've done it every year, but that's OK because that reinforces it."

For the last 21 years, school cook Pat Garay has whipped up a batch of firehouse chili to serve students on fire safety day. Volunteer firefighters joined the children for lunch, answering a barrage of questions between mouthfuls.

Years ago, many of the firefighters were sitting in the student's seats. Now, they're giving the lesson.

"I remember our fire prevention days and how exciting it was," Brostowitz said. "It's now my turn to give back."

For all they know, they're talking to future Solon Springs firefighters.

National Fire Prevention Week runs Oct. 9-15. More information on fire safety is available through the National Fire Protection Association, www.nfpa.org or by contacting your local fire department. More about the Enbridge Safe Community grant program is available at www.enbridge.com/safecommunity .

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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