This year’s presentation was essentially a repeat of what Steketee has done with students the past several years: run through a makeshift obstacle to simulate what they should do if ever there’s a nighttime fire in their home.
One by one, students lay in the bed until Steketee sounds the fire alarm. Then they follow the prescribed plan: roll out of bed, stay close to floor to avoid smoke and crawl to the door. If the door feels cool to the touch, they can exit through it; if it’s hot, they switch to their alternate exit (such as a window), and then meet family members at a designated location outside the house.
Steketee makes no apology for the repetition.
“That’s what I want,” he said. “You don’t get out on the diamond and play your opposing team without having practiced baseball. That’s what this—practice, to get better at it.
“The fifth graders might roll their eyes, but they’re good at it,” he said. “They buzz right through that thing because they know exactly what to do.”
Steketee used a different strategy when he made his first presentation as fire chief six years ago.
“I had just become chief and Wayne (Lowry) was retiring, and that was kind of his last act as fire chief to help me do the Fire Prevention Week program.”
The first presentation was more of a teaching session complete with an easel and a large tablet of paper with lessons written out in advance.
“I carried through with that for a couple of years,” Steketee said. “Then one of the teachers told me that one of the things Wayne had done years ago was to have the kids actually practice what to do in the event of a fire.
“I thought, wow, that sounds pretty good. I got to poking around the fire station and found this big box called ‘The Practice and Learn System.’ That’s what Wayne had used in the past.
“I kind of took it out of mothballs, looked it over and thought, ‘I bet this would be a lot of fun.’ So that’s what we do now.
“My goal is for kids to practice what to do in the event that their house is on fire so that it’s automatic—they know what to do instead of wondering what to do,” he said.
Another thing Steketee tries to do is to have members of his volunteer department show up in full gear, including breathing apparatus. Steketee likes it best when those firefighters turn out to be fathers of some of the HES students participating in the presentation.
“It helps bring home the point that firefighters are your friends and someone you can trust,” Steketee said. “They’re not scary guys coming in (breathing) like Darth Vader.”
As effective as the presentation has been, Steketee said he would like to revamp it someday.
“There are a lot of other (teaching) systems out there now—more modern—and a lot of other departments have them already. Some departments have a trailer that the kids can crawl through.
“One day, when time and budget allow, we’ll have something like that. But for now, that’s what we’ve got, and that’s what we use—and we make the best of it.”