Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fire Safety Day

Submitted this to another website and publishing it here in case it doesn't make the cut. I don't usually publish personal stuff on here, but I'm making an exception.

For the past 3 months, I've been a member of one of my county's volunteer fire departments. I'm one of 2 female firefighters at our station. Last week was the annual Fire Safety Day our department puts on to teach kids the basics (when to call 911, stop drop and roll, don't play with matches, etc). We took a crew to the elementary school in our district (preK-5) for the whole school day, talking to each grade individually.

As the least senior person on crew that day, I was content with my role of passing out plastic fire helmets and goodie bags to the students. The last group before lunch was arriving when a captain pulled me and another firefighter aside. He let us know that we would be taking over instructor duty after lunch.

We ate in the school cafeteria with the kids. (Don't even get me started on how nasty the government-mandated healthy lunches are). Eating with the kids was kind of fun anyway just seeing their reaction to these big firemen crammed into seats at the little tables. We returned to the gym to set up for the next lesson.

As the kids filed in, I asked my partner, "Who's taking lead on this?" I'm still a probie (rookie, for those that don't know) and my partner has about 6 months of seniority on me. Imagine my surprise when he shrugged and answered, "It's all you." Fortunately, I was not born with the gene that makes one fear public speaking. I knew more or less what I had to say from watching the earlier lessons. I spent 2 summers working at a day camp when I was in high school, so I have experience wrangling kids. However, I was still slightly apprehensive about how this would turn out.

These were first-graders. (Second-graders had been a horror show behavior-wise, to the point where the teachers told them the kindergartners probably behaved better. Sadly, the teachers were right). As a general rule, I anticipate more problems the younger the wee ones are. Another reason is I admit to being impatient. There's a reason I didn't major in education; I would've lost my mind and quit long before it was time for student teaching.

I stepped up in front of the 40-some-odd first-graders and warmly introduced myself. I told them in friendly but no uncertain terms that my partner and I were teaching them about something important; they needed to pay real attention to what we had to say. Then I was off and running. My partner jumped in on certain topics and acted as a safety net when I was unsure of what issue to cover next. The first-graders blew me away with how attentive and polite they were during the presentation.

At the end of my talk, I called for questions. A shy little girl raised her hand and said, "Can I hug you, Miss Firefighter?" The question was unexpected, but for me, there was only one answer: "Of course you can." That set off a chain reaction of wide grins and excited squirming. And that's how my 5-foot-nothing self got tackle-hugged by every kid who walked by me on their way out of the gym. They barely even noticed the goodie bags their teachers were carrying because they were so focused on me.

By the end of the day, I was more comfortable with teaching. I took the time to talk to a preschool girl who was terrified to the point of tears by how the firefighters looked in full gear. I told her that firemen had scared me too when I was her age. But if there's a fire or emergency, she shouldn't be scared of us because we're her friends and want to help her. She gave me a weak, watery smile and I think she understood.

Spending the day with those kids warmed the depths of my snarky little heart. I sincerely hope and pray that my brothers and I won't be showing up at their front door anytime soon. 

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