For decades children have been taught to “stop, drop and roll” if engulfed in flames.
That message still is delivered. But with the help of the Hernando County Fire Corps, local children are taken through a simulated fire inside a burning “home” and taught how to escape.
The Smokehouse, which was launched more than 15 years ago, just received an exterior makeover and mechanical overhaul with help from the Florida Department of Health Hernando County and Tobacco Free Hernando.
According to statistics obtained by the Department of Health Hernando, “smoking related fires are the leading cause of deaths in residential buildings. These fires are eight times more likely to result in death than fires that start from another source. Smoking related fires in residential buildings result in an average of approximately 365 deaths, 925 injuries, and $326 million in property loss each year.”
For that reason, Tobacco Free Hernando, a local coalition dedicated to preventing the initiation of tobacco use, helping those who already use tobacco quit, and protecting individuals from the hazards of secondhand smoke, joined the Fire Corp to help spread the word about the dangers of smoking.
Tobacco Free Hernando hopes the information provided teaches not only the health risks of smoking, but also the reality that fires can lead to deaths — mainly due to smoke inhalation.
The Smokehouse makes appearances at local public and private schools and at special functions. The program is run completely by volunteers.
The experience gives participants a real-life lesson in the importance of exit procedures in case they find themselves in a burning building. It also helps temper fear in children about fire safety and provides hands-on training to help them act quickly and safely if such a fire occurs.
The program began with a modest RV, designed to mimic a home or apartment. It is filled with “smoke” thick enough to obscure the participants’ visual perceptions as they make their way through the unit to the safety of the back exit.
The Hernando County Fire Corps, a volunteer organization made up of local residents, runs the program through donations and fundraising.
Indeed, the Fire Corps is responsible for many activities throughout the county that assist emergency efforts. In addition to providing education to elementary school students, the organization also educates high school students, provides Friends and Family CPR classes for organizations upon request, and serves as a standby at Mud Runs and Motor Coach Rallies, etc.
“These folks last year alone donated 5,200 volunteer hours, which is completely unheard of,” said Hernando County Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief, Kevin Carroll . “There is no budget for the Fire Corps.”
The Hernando County Fire Corps received the 2011 Fire Corps Award of Excellence. The recognition is presented each year to honor notable achievements in fire and emergency services.
Joining forces with the Florida Department of Health Hernando will help continue spreading the message about the dangers of smoking and house fires. With a grant obtained by the Department of Health, the Fire Corp was able to overhaul the Smokehouse unit.
Using the grant money, the Smokehouse was updated and now provides marketing graphics to spread the word about Tobacco Free Hernando and the efforts of the Fire Corp to save lives.
This included updating the exterior graphics in a vehicle wrap that was created and installed at a discount by ESP Enterprises; and mechanical repairs done, again at a discount, by Knights Auto Body Repair.
“It’s really the community coming together to help these people,” said Carroll.
“We wanted to do this for years,” said Steve Katz, deputy commander of the Hernando County Fire Corps. With the money from the Smokefree Hernando Coalition, the idea became a reality.
The result made the Smokehouse more appealing to children, more approachable and more effective in the community. It will continue to make visits in its attempt to educate children and their families about the dangers of and potential for house fires.
Children go up a ramp to enter the unit, crawling on their hands and knees. A Fire Corp representative is positioned at the rear of the unit, coaxing the children through and instructing them to turn around and back out of the rear window and down a ladder.
Katz said thousands of children come through the Smokehouse each year. “If 10 percent go home and tell their families what to do in case of the house is on fire, we’ve reached a lot of people and likely prevented some deaths,” he said.
The newly updated Smokehouse debuted at a recent fundraising event held at Ruby Tuesdays last week. It was parked behind the restaurant where Fire Corps volunteers answered questions and handed out flyers for 20-percent donations from Ruby Tuesdays food sales during the two-day event.
Other events are scheduled through the remainder of the year, including an event at Chick-fil-A later this month. Hernando County public school appearances are available upon request.
Email Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at firstname.lastname@example.org.