NEIA Red Cross
How to Talk to Kids About Fire Safety
By Ashley Peterson-DeLuca
When Brian Eiteman’s firefighter grandfather walked into his third-grade classroom to teach fire safety, Brian thought, “I’m going to do that.”
Although many kids say they want to be a firefighter when they grow up, Brian made his dream come true. He has been a firefighter for almost 30 years and has been teaching fire safety to students since his first day on the job.
Brian has a long family legacy to live up to. He is the fifth generation in his family to be a firefighter. His great, great grandfather joined the Perry Fire Department in 1889, followed by his great grandfather, his father and then Brian and his brother, Joel.
As the Assistant Fire Chief for the Perry Fire Department, Brian leads his fellow firefighters through dangerous situations when their own safety is at risk. This last year, he and four other firefighters received an award from the governor for rescuing a trapped person from a housefire. It was a first in Perry Fire Department’s 140-year history.
Brian is also in charge of community outreach, and as a self-proclaimed “big kid” himself, loves teaching kids about fire safety.
“I talk to every student in the school district in pre-K to third grade,” he says. “By third grade, the students in Perry, Iowa, are fire safety experts.”
In support of the Red Cross Sound the Alarm campaign, he shares some advice for parents about how to talk to kids about fire safety:
First, he recommends making the discussion about fire prevention age-appropriate. For the youngest children, he teaches them the simplest things. He reminds them, “Don’t play with stoves or matches. If you find matches, take them to your teacher or parent.”
For the young students, he also makes sure that firefighters in full safety gear—the big helmet, iridescent mask, and loud breathing apparatus—don’t frighten them. It is dangerous for children to hide from firefighters during a house fire because they are scared of their alien appearance and voice.
To break the ice, he shares his favorite fact with students: Darth Vader wears the same air regulator in the Star Wars movies that firefighters wear today. This, along with seeing a real firefighter in all the safety equipment and getting to try it on, makes them much more comfortable.
“Students love learning about fire,” says Brian. “We go through the stages of fires, what causes fires, how they behave and how to prevent them.”
He learned the hard way to not teach children about 911 until first grade: “We had kindergarteners going home after the fire safety lesson and calling 911 asking if they can talk to Firefighter Brian.”
As the students get older, the information he shares gets more complex. For example, Brian starts to teach them how to make a plan for how to get out of the house and go to a meeting place if there is a fire. For example, to teach kids how to practice how to get out of the house in case of a fire, one of the Sound the Alarm steps, he has kids do activities like drawing a map or finding their way out of a maze.
But, no matter the age, he says to make talking about fire safety fun: “Tell stories and play games. Then, tell them something serious after having fun. I think it helps them remember.”
Take the time to make sure everyone in your house, including your kids, knows the two simple steps to prepare for a house fire and have fun doing it. The firefighters of Perry and American Red Cross volunteers will Sound the Alarm in Perry, as part of a national effort to educate 100,000 people about home fires. On May 8, volunteers will meet with residents, by appointment, outside their homes to share fire safety information and help them create an escape plan to practice their two-minute fire drill. Perry residents who would like to have Red Cross volunteers visit their homes on May 8 should call 833-422-1751.
The American Red Cross is also offering virtual educational visits this spring. To have a phone conversation with a Red Cross volunteer about home fire safety and preparedness, call 833-422-1751. The virtual educational opportunities are available to anyone, not just Perry residents.