LYNDHURST, N.J. -- Continuing a tradition that dates back nearly a half-century, Lyndhurst firefighters made fire safety fun for nearly 1,400 young children.
Presented to youngsters from pre-K through 3rd grade, the National Fire Prevention Week demonstrations included a firefighter getting dressed in stages -- including breathing apparatus -- and eventually crawling around the students, exchanging high-fives with them.
"We don't want children hiding from a firefighter should they be in need of rescue during a fire incident," ex-chief Paul Haggerty explained.
The youngsters, who also got to try on some of the protective gear, were introduced to "Mr. Nose," a custom-decorated combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
They also toured the fire engines -- with an emphasis on special tools and equipment -- and paid a visit to the "smokehouse."
Students pretended a fire had just broken out in their home while they were sleeping, as theatrical smoke filled the custom-fabricated trailer, created by borough firefighters 20 years ago.
Firefighters directed them to "get low and go" as they made their way to a window -- and a safe escape.
The day also included a short film emphasizing the importance of recognizing fire hazards in the home, not playing with sources of ignition, such as lighters and matches, and planning exit drills. They were also reminded to keep fresh batteries in detectors.
Preparations began in late August, when ex-chief Steve Passamano contacted school staff to set the week's schedule and began collecting materials.
A majority of local schools visited the firehouse. Firefighters took the show on the road for those who couldn't make it.
"Many of the department's all-volunteer staff will either take vacation days or alter their schedules with their places of employment, due to their dedicated efforts to the program," Haggerty said. "It truly is a testament to the program's success."
As the program wrapped up, youngsters got plastic replica fire helmets and a goodie bag with educational materials on fire safety.
Then came the big moment: A few of their favorite teachers were hoisted in the bucket of the department's ladder tower nearly 100 feet in the air, seemingly about to touch the clouds, as the youngsters shouted "higher, higher" from blocks away.
"It is truly impossible to measure how many lives and fires this program will or has saved or prevented," Haggerty said, "but we can attest to its validity.
"This is especially evident when young adults with children of their own tell us that they recall their time as a child on their visit to the firehouse."
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