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By Dan Rudy 

Local students given hands-on lesson in fire safety


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Brianna Black is shown how to use a household fire extinguisher by firefighter Adam Sprehe on Oct. 15, during Evergreen Elementary School's annual fire safety presentations.

Students of Brian Merritt's 4th grade class were given a presentation on fire safety by members of the Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department on Oct. 15.

The annual lesson has long been a part of the curriculum – too long, thought Dorianne Curley, WVFD administrative officer. Each year from kindergarten on up, local kids are given the same lessons: who to call in the event of an emergency (9-1-1), what to do in case of catching fire (stop, drop and roll), and other tried-and-true responses.

"Today we're going to do something different," she told the dozen visiting students. After making sure they remembered the basics, Curley informed them they would get to use a household fire extinguisher, learn kitchen safety, see a search dog in action, and watch firefighters remove a car door using the "Jaws of Life."

This last item received the most enthusiastic response, but all of the stations were clearly enjoyed.

"I wanted them to get a different view of what the fire department does," Curley explained.

Steve Prysunka was there with his retriever, Katilli, who is currently undergoing training to be a search-and-rescue dog. The two had recently returned from a five-day wilderness air search training in Jackson Gap, Ala.

"She did very well," Prysunka said. "We kind of got the nod to go for our national certification in the spring."

After explaining to the visiting kids how search and rescue dogs are able to track people using the scents from their natural oils and skin fragments, Prysunka had volunteers try their best to outfox his dog in a game of hide-and-seek. Katilli found them each time, showing she's well on her way toward becoming Wrangell's searcher.

The children also were able to answer some safety questions and demonstrate survival skills in the department's smoke simulation trailer. Only a handful of kids indicated they could cook, but Curley felt it's never too soon to learn how to do so safely.

Firefighters Walter Moorhead and Adam Sprehe demonstrated the Jaws of Life – a hydraulic tool used to pry open crashed cars and free trapped occupants – on an old pickup from the landfill.

"There's a whole sequence that you follow," Moorhead explained.

After first stabilizing the vehicle and cutting a hole in the roof, the victim is treated on-site and prepared to be moved.

"There's a lot of coordination between the whole team," he said. Emergency responders help each other coordinate traffic and mitigate additional threats in such situations, in addition to assisting with the task of dismantling the vehicle.

Sprehe helped prepare a starting point and steady the truck's door as Moorhead then got to work prying it apart. The door on the other side would be used for a demonstration for Evergreen Elementary's 5th grade class the following day.

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Firefighter volunteer Stephen Prysunka shows a group of fourth graders how his search-and-rescue dog Katilli tracks down missing persons.

Merritt explained the fire station trip was one of half a dozen such educational trips he takes his to class each year. After getting back to school armed with "goodie bags" of activity books and crayons, he said they would recap the lessons with reinforcement activities.

Moorhead thought it was a good opportunity to get the youth involved in the fire department. A number of high schoolers are themselves volunteer members of Wrangell's service and many will continue to participate once they have established themselves in the community as adults.

"These are your future fire department members, too," he said.

With winter on the way, fire safety can benefit grown-ups as well. Curley reminded residents to prepare themselves, giving chimneys a cleaning, clearing space for electric heaters, and checking household and workplace extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors.

"We can always come and test it for them," Sprehe said of the latter. The department also has a chimney sweep on hand that can be borrowed on request.


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