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Students learn fire safety with The Hartford, Cleveland firefighters (video gallery)



The risk of a house fire is higher in Cleveland than many other cities; in fact, it ranks 23rd in the nation.

The power to lower this risk lies in school-aged children -- at least, partially. That’s the driving force behind The Hartford insurance company’s Junior Fire Marshal program, which paid a visit to Benjamin Franklin School on Tuesday.

The company is also donating $10,000 each to CMSD and the Cleveland Fire Department for fire safety education in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Junior Fire Marshal program. The donation is part of a larger commitment the company made to all the citird on The Hartford’s Home Fire Index.

“We are pleased to be able to bring this program to the city of Cleveland and empower the next generation of children to take an active role in reducing the fire risk in their homes,” said Debora Raymond, the spokesperson for the program.

With red, plastic firefighter helmets atop their heads, about 200 students in kindergarten through third grade went through a series of activities and emerged as junior fire marshals.

The first lesson was led by Cleveland Fire Lt. Daphne Tyus in The Hartford’s mobile Fire Safety House. Tyus guided small groups through the house's model kitchen and talked about common fire hazards for children, including setting a cereal box on a hot stove, microwaving a metal bowl and playing with matches.

They also went through a fire simulation. When the oven lit up, as though it was on fire, and began emitting fake smoke, Tyus told the students to drop to the floor and crawl into the model bedroom. There, another firefighter taught them what to do if they wake up in the middle of the night and their home is on fire.

The hope is that children will go home and discuss a fire safety and fire escape plan with their parents, Raymond said. 

The activities were close to home for one student, who told a Cleveland firefighter that his house burned down last fall. The boy’s experience isn’t uncommon in Cleveland, according to The Hartford. The company says Cleveland residents are more likely than others to engage in risky behaviors like leaving the kitchen while cooking something on the stove and charging a device on their bed.

Tyus, the Cleveland lieutenant, said fire safety education is especially important for elementary school children. The Hartford reports that 33 percent of home fires are started by children 6 to 9 years old.

“Children at that age usually don’t understand the importance of fire safety,” Tyus said. “Today, children are being exposed to something that is could save their lives, and we’re doing it in a fun way.”

Students also came face to face with a Cleveland firefighter in full gear. Raymond said it's important for students to know that firefighters are real people whose job is to help them. Otherwise, children can become afraid if they're in a burning building and don't recognize the strange masked man or woman dressed in heavy gear trying to save them.

In addition to the monetary donation, The Hartford will also distrubute Junior Fire Marshal education materials to children in kindergarten through third grade in every CMSD school. The classroom kit comes with red fire helmets, an educator and parent guide and coloring posters desinged to introduce fire safety concepts to children.