Written by Volunteer Matt Kadosh
More than 90 percent of the disasters the American Red Cross responds to in the United States are house fires. So on Martin Luther King Day, the organization teamed up with HOPE Worldwide, Camden Street Elementary School, the Newark Fire Department and other organizations to improve fire safety in the city.
Firefighter Antonio Padilla helped teach children about fire safety using the “smoke house,” a trailer that Red Cross volunteers took children through to help them identify fire dangers and teach them what to do in the event a blaze. “This is an essential tool in fire prevention,” he said, referring to the white structure just outside of the school. “It shows the kids what you should and shouldn’t do in a fire.”
The volunteers teach children to pay attention to smoke detectors, crawl under the smoke during a fire and call 9-1-1 from outside of the house instead of inside a burning building, Padilla said.
They also show them how to not overload electrical sockets, not leave flammable items around a fireplace, and ensure that electrical cords are not underneath rugs, among other measures, he said. And they teach children to pick a safe spot where they can meet their family in the event they have to evacuate the home.
Volunteers and firefighters also taught children how to climb outside of a window in the event of a fire. And they recommended children wave garments or throw toys outside of their window to gain the attention of firefighters.
Jaliyl Norman, 39, of Newark brought his children to the school and was appreciative of the Red Cross’ fire prevention efforts: “I set a couple of fires in my day playing with matches; so I’m glad they’re doing this.”
Norman’s 9-year-old son Joshua saw the fire safety demonstration in the smoke house and, shortly after climbing out of a window to simulate a fire rescue, said fire safety is “important.”
Volunteers led by the Red Cross also took to the streets to increase awareness of fire safety. Leland Gill, a Rutherford resident and volunteer for HOPE Worldwide, sported a Red Cross vest for the day and led a team of six volunteers that went door to door. “A lot of lives can be saved if people know what they need; so it’s great we’re going to these homes and making sure people have what they need to be safe,” he said.
Volunteers reported that the residents were receptive to their efforts, despite the fact that they rousted some from Obama’s historic inauguration speech.
Gill said that he found that in one house a woman didn’t have a smoke detector and in other homes he could hear the detectors “chirping,” an indication that a smoke detector needs its batteries replaced. So Gill was happy that, even if he didn’t get to talk to a resident, the door hanger might get the fire safety message out.
“Hanging the door hanger will help remind them, I know,” he said. His team knocked on 116 doors, and talked with 26 people that day. His was one of many teams the Red Cross led through the streets of Newark, distributing 700 fire safety tips door hangers to homes within a one-mile radius of the school.
Volunteers from Americorps, William Paterson University and Montclair State University were also among the organizations that helped that day.
Sam Garrison, the school’s principal, declared the day, which included sixth graders making presentations on fire safety prevention and eighth graders debating gun control, a success. “We were able to bring the vision of Dr. King’s to the community,” he said. “It came together well.”
And Fateen Ziyad, Newark fire director, praised the Red Cross for doing “an incredible job” that day and on others. “Time and time again, they’ve helped in tragic situations,” he said. “Time and time again, they’ve helped our citizens.”
See more photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87969009@N04/