GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — 2020 was a deadly year, in Grand Rapids, for house fires. Grand Rapids Fire Department (GRFD) Lt. William Smith says last year 9 people died in fires, four of them were children. Smith says none of those homes had working smoke alarms and that inspired a new educational campaign.
"This was a very, very high number for us. We haven't had that many fire fatalities for a very long time, nearly 20 years. So, the fire prevention division decided to change, or pivot, the way we operate. One of those operational things that we came up with was to partner with Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) to help our children be safer," says Smith.
The department reached out to GRPS and teamed up for a monthly fire safety campaign, that kicked off the beginning of March. Each month, students, in grades kindergarten through 12 students, will safety messages, by way of video and other platforms, that will teach them how to deal with fire and other safety risks.
"We look at data. We look at what's going on and look at what's going on in our own neighborhoods. So, when we identified risks, we thought, well, these are risks that we can change purely through education," says Smith. "It's not just fires that impact our children negatively. It's everything else too. And, we can talk about weather. We can talk about safe grilling. We can talk about toxic fumes. We can talk about driving swimming, everything that kids experience. We want to help coach them through life and make the world a lot safer than today."
GRPS spokesperson John Helmholdt says, while they have worked with GRFD on projects before, this campaign is different.
"This is concerted dedicated year round, monthly - actually multiple times a month - messaging," he said. "So, I think that's where we really want to commend our friends at City Hall and the fire department for their intentionality in saying 'let's do this in a more formal annual campaign.' That's what is most important and what really sets this apart from anything we've done in the past."
Grand Rapids Public Schools says it "will be leveraging all available communications channels to help promote this fire safety campaign including the We Are GR newspaper, We Are GR e-news, social media, flyers home with students, and more."
"You know, typical education is around core curricula, but part of education is around things like this," says Helmholdt. "This is an important educational opportunity for students and families, about fire safety that goes beyond textbook, into real world applications. We've always said that we need to educate the whole child. And, this is one of those ways."
The campaign will kick off in March. The following is a tentative list of the monthly communications:
- March: Change your clock/change your batteries, smoke alarm testing and home escape planning.
- April: Spring safety, toxic fume awareness, outdoor grilling safety, and recreational fire safety.
- May: Gearing up for summer safety, arson awareness, and what to do in a fire emergency in a public building.
- June: Fire safety and the great outdoors, fireworks safety, and water safety.
- July: Youth fire safety, stop-drop-cover-and-roll, matches and lighters, escape planning.
- August: Eliminate hazards in living spaces, fire safety for people with disabilities, fire safety for older adults, fire safety for pets, and hoarding hazards.
- September: Fire safety in public places, tampering with smoke alarms, carbon monoxide safety, and 911 for emergencies.
- October: Elements of a fire-safe home, serving fire safety in the kitchen, home fire escape planning, and Halloween safety.
- November: A fire-safe Thanksgiving, electrical hazards, home heating, and ice awareness.
- December: Holiday fire safety, candles and holiday décor hazards, New Year's celebration safety, holiday cooking safety, and Christmas tree safety.
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