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Grant funds beef up fire prevention program

The grant funding the Sunnyside Fire Department received last summer from the Federal Emergency Management Act and the Department of Homeland Security has been spent to improve fire prevention in Sunnyside.

The department purchased a hazard house designed to help youngsters find hazards in a home. The funds were also used to purchase a 10-foot tall inflatable walk-around fireman.

The hazard house shows more than just fire safety. It also has chemical, carbon monoxide and general home safety, according to Interim Fire Chief Aaron Markham.

Adjustable to the needs of a community, Markham said that the introductory portion of the presentation can represent urban apartment buildings, residential neighborhoods and farms.

He said that there is even some basic farm safety built into the program.

The home opens up to reveal a house with several fire hazards and safety issues for people to find. On one floor, there is a computer desk with overloaded wiring and another has a cigarette smoker asleep in a reclining chair. In one room of the safety house is a person in a bathtub reaching for a stereo, which sparks with the touch of a remote held by the instructor. The safety house also smokes and a bright orange light represents fire in the house. There is also preventive safety on extension cords and circuit overloads.

Markham hopes to be able to use the hazard house in second and third grade classrooms in the Sunnyside School District.

"We want to reach them before they get to the age where safety isn't a concern," said Markham. "If you get the fire prevention and safety message to them when they are young they often are more safety conscious than adults."

An interactive program, he said that one of the fire department's volunteers in interested in spreading the safety message.

As part of the program, children look for missing things in a home that can be a hazard, such as no smoke detectors. The house also has a place for carbon monoxide detectors, which teaches children who live in homes with gas dryers, hot water heaters and furnaces about the odorless and colorless gas. There is also safety lessons on checking hot water temperatures in the house, which Markham said is important to do first thing in the morning with a thermometer before anyone has had a chance to take a bath.

"We'll ask, 'What do you think is missing in the bedroom'? We're hoping they'll see there's not a smoke detector," said Markham.

He said that there will be other hazards throughout the house that he hopes will be noticed by children.

"Not everyone has a garage. A lot of people store stuff like their lawn mowers, gas and barbecues in the basement," said Markham.

He said those items and other chemicals can be hazards inside a house.

Markham said the department purchased the hazard house because it was looking for something that could hold the attention span of younger children. Although they use a good video to teach fire safety, he said that children seem to learn more effectively through the use of items such as the safety house.

"Here, we're actually asking them to find the hazards for themselves," said Markham.

The safety house made its debut in Sunnyside two weeks ago at the Homebuyers Fair held at St. Joseph Church.

"We're going to use this a lot more often in the coming years," he said. "We didn't get the grant for it to sit here."

Markham hopes to use the walk-around fireman in conjunction with fire safety classes at the schools. He anticipates the yet unnamed fireman will draw attention and boost excitement among the kids in the schools.

He also anticipates it being used in parades and special events and at the fire department open house.

The inflatable fireman requires one person to get into the suit, which is inflated by a portable air pump. The person can walk around in the suit, which is customized with the Sunnyside Fire Department emblem on the hat.

Markham said all the grant money is geared toward fire prevention. Previously, departments had to choose between fire prevention material and safety equipment for firefighters.

The change in the way the grants are separated has been a benefit to the local department, he added.

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