As a kid, the visit from the fire companies was one of my favorite parts of elementary school. I believe it was a Dick Van Dyke and Donald Duck movie we would watch and we’d get to see the fire trucks. For a young guy who loved ‘Emergency!’, who could ask for anything better? The lessons stuck with me, and as I got involved with the fire company, I gravitated toward helping with fire prevention. Years ago, I took over presenting our township’s fire prevention program to our three elementary schools. Fire prevention education is vital to the safety of our school children. Who knows how many future firefighters we may impact.
2020 has certainly presented a multitude of challenges for everyone. Education has seen some of the greatest upheaval. Hybrid learning, fully online learning, social distance lunches, mask breaks and Zoom…oh my! As was the case for many of you, I’m sure, in-person visits for fire prevention programs were not an option for our school district and pre-schools. Collectively, the departments within the Parkland School District decided that we needed to figure out what 2020 fire prevention would look like. How do we bring our in-person message to students that we can’t see?
Our school district is served by three different municipalities; who each provide their own individual fire prevention programs to their elementary schools. Through the magic of Zoom, we all met and brainstormed. The end result was a unified, district wide fire prevention program that would be presented digitally and available for all students; regardless of their learning option. Thanks to my experiences as the part-time kindergarten teacher for my daughter, I have learned a lot about some of the very cool and interactive things teachers are doing. The one that appeals to my daughter the most is a Bitmoji classroom. Bitmoji classrooms are an interactive classroom where the different elements of the classroom link you to different sites and resources. The Bitmoji part refers to a digitally animated version of you that you create online and use to represent yourself. Thankfully, NFPA and Sparky.org have a ton of great content to link to. This was our Bitmoji classroom…
Each element of the classroom is a link or the pathway to some sort of online fire prevention message. The station patches provide a link to the fire stations website. This might seem simple and un-engaging, but this garnered the approval of my 6-year-old. She frequently goes to this for some entertainment and learning.
What did your fire prevention look like this year? As we move forward and, hopefully, kids return to school full-time, how do we engage the children that remain online? Our message to our kids won’t change, but how we deliver needs to. YouTube videos, Facebook posts, tweets, Snapchat or TikTok; the fire service needs to embrace technology and engage the public. We need to bring our safety messages to where people spend so much time. Data usage increased about 47% during the pandemic. I know mine has increased.
With almost 30 years as volunteer firefighter, I see the difference these programs make in our community. Professionally, I have the privilege to serve as the Coroner for Lehigh County. We are home to a Regional Burn Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest. Far too often, we see the tragic results of house fires and the families they impact. The fire service and public safety professionals must not abandon our safety messages during the global pandemic, we need to find new ways to bring it to those that need it most.
Eric D. Minnich, D-ABMDI
Coroner, County of Lehigh
Assistant Fire Chief, Neffs Volunteer Fire Company
Links to resources: