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That’s not Darth Vader, it’s a volunteer firefighter

As volunteer firefighter Laird Kinghorn breathed into an oxygen mask he was wearing, Public Education Captain Tracey Fitzsimons asked the children what Kinghorn sounded like.

“Darth Vader!” a young boy responded, referring to the sounds the mask made as Laird breathed in and out.

“Are you afraid of Laird though? He isn’t Darth Vader,” Fitzsimons told the children.

“No,” a chorus of children replied.

About 65 Junior and Senior Kindergarten students from Stevensville Public School visited Station 5 in Stevensville on Friday.

Members of the Fort Erie Fire Department were on hand to teach the children about fire safety. The students toured the fire hall on Stevensville Road, got an up-close look at the fire trucks and a chance to interact with a fully-uniformed volunteer firefighter.

Alongside promoting fire safety, Fitzsimons said the main goal was to teach the youngsters that firefighters are their friends.

Kinghorn said the gear firefighters must wear to protect themselves from heat and flames can be frightening for young children, especially in emergency situations.

“When Star Wars first came out in the ‘70s’, there are some kids who saw firefighters who came to rescue them (during an emergency) but the children would turn right around and run back into the fire because they were scared,” he said.

But having a chance to see what a firefighter looks like fully dressed takes the fear away, and lets children know firefighters are safe people they can turn to in an emergency situation, Fitzsimons explained.

“Something that we haven’t had before is a decontamination room. Now that we have one, we are able to clean our gear and bring it in classrooms so kids can see it up close. That’s something we haven’t be able to do before,” she said.

The hope is that the children will take home the information they learned during Friday’s visit and share it with their families, Fitzsimmons explained.

Offering safety education programs to local students is one way the fire department promotes fire safety awareness and education. Starting this Saturday, Fitzsimons said volunteer firefighters will be going door-to-door to Greater Fort Erie homes offering free inspections and checking for working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

The program is called Smoke Alarms Fort Erie, but it’s better known as SAFE.

Fitzsimons said every home in Ontario is required to have a working smoke alarm on every storey of a home and a carbon monoxide alarm outside all sleeping areas.

“There’s a surprisingly large amount of people that aren’t aware of some of the aspects of fire safety. This is an opportunity for people to ask those questions and to make sure everything is in good working order,” she said.

Some of the most common questions Fitzsimons is asked is how many smoke alarms a home should whether carbon monoxide alarms are necessary and if smoke alarms expire.

Fitzsimons says smoke alarms do expire every 10 years.

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