Saturday, July 14, 2007 -
Early lesson in being safe
Kids learn to deal with emergencies in annual Havre de Grace camp
By Mary Gail Hare
July 14, 2007
The camp in Harford County offers some of the elements of traditional summer programs - games, obstacle courses, crafts.
But the 100 children in the camp at a fire station near Havre de Grace also focus on less-familiar activities: how to make a 911 call; how to stop, drop and roll in case of a fire; how to handle an encounter with a wild animal.
"Most summer camps are about sports, but this one is about saving lives," said Steve Hinch, chief of the Aberdeen Volunteer Fire Company and one of more than 40 volunteers at the three-day camp called Play It Safe.
The campers, ranging in age from 5 to 11, are learning how to protect themselves from boating, bicycling and pool accidents. During the camp that ended yesterday, they met firefighters, police officers and emergency workers in a mix of classroom lessons and hands-on activities that included sitting in a Med-Evac helicopter and taking a ride on a fire truck.
The camp is sponsored by the 100-member Level Volunteer Fire Company, which normally handles less than half the number of calls that its counterpart in Bel Air receives. The small company on the outskirts of Havre de Grace stresses the importance of taking fire lessons into the community, county fire officials say.
"At this house, we are the fire prevention seat," said Vickie Hyde, a Level volunteer emergency medical technician, who taught at the camp. "Our goal is to teach these kids what we know, so they can protect themselves and their families and maybe, eventually, volunteer with us."
Jurisdictions around the state offer fire safety programs for children. Washington County operates a safety village with a burned-out house that shows how a fire progresses. Montgomery runs a mobile safety program that works through the school system.
But the Level camp is regarded among firefighters throughout the state as one of the best safety programs for kids, and it might be the only one in Maryland that runs for multiple days and is put on entirely by volunteers.
"They have widened this program so much to include so many other things," said Leonard T. King, secretary of the Maryland State Firemen's Association.
Yesterday, in a makeshift classroom behind the kitchen at the firehouse, an instructor quizzed a dozen children on safety issues. The children knew a smoke detector beeps when it needs a new battery, that the term "octopus hazard" refers to too many plugs in one electrical outlet, and that a 911 caller must to give a name, address, phone number and nature of the emergency.
"You don't hang up," said Michael Wood, 7, of Churchville. "You stay on the phone."
"And you stay calm," said classmate Brianna Blakely, 6, of Havre de Grace.
Within the first few hours, every child has practiced the "stop, drop and roll" drill used if clothing catches fire and knows "to cover your face, so you can get air," added Brianna.
Campers tried to aim water from a 75-pound fire hose into an overturned cone. Very few hit the target and many were doused, hardly a crisis in mid-July.
"It's just a fun thing for them," Hinch said.
Within the span of an hour, Katie Miskelly handled an Australian python, a fire hose and a police dog named Kacey.
"The hose was heavy. The snake was slimy but not scary. and the dog was soft," the 6-year-old Kingsville resident said.
It's the 14th year for the camp, and many children are repeat campers, said Rich Gardiner, spokesman for Harford's volunteer companies, whose children were campers a few years ago.
"They bring in firefighters in all their gear to show the children these people will help them, not scare them," he said. "They break down the lessons for youth. There is a lot of repetition and it carries through. These kids remember."
Rhonda Polk, a dispatcher for Harford's emergency operations, organizes the camp with the help of other volunteers and about $6,000 raised at bingo events held during the year. Campers pay no fees.
The enrollment has increased since the camp began in 1993, prompting Polk to limit registration to 100 this year.
"I got an idea to base this on vacation Bible school," Polk said. "Instead of Bible lessons, we would have all kinds of life safety lessons."
About half of the campers are returnees and many grads return to help, she said.
A case in point is Michelle Gallion, 19, a former camper and current volunteer EMT at Level.
"This is where I first learned about fire prevention," she said.
Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun