The phrase “Stop, Drop, and Roll” has long been part of the national lexicon as the most recognizable fire-safety technique in the book. Ingrained in the minds of schoolchildren for decades, with the help of Sparky the Fire Dog, it now seems the catchy expression may not be much of a lifesaver.
Fire-safety officials nationwide are concerned that the prevalence of “Stop, Drop, and Roll” may be hindering fire-safety efforts rather than helping. Fire Department of New York Lt. Anthony Mancuso of the Fire Safety Education Unit explained that children view the technique as a substitute for more comprehensive safety measures.
“The biggest problem is that people just don’t know what to do during a fire,” Mancuso said. “Kids get confused — ‘Stop, Drop, and Roll’ doesn’t work if your house is burning.”
In order to educate the public, the FDNY kicked off National Fire Prevention Week at Rockefeller Plaza on Oct. 5. The event, hosted by Tishman Speyer Properties, co-owner of Rockefeller Center, celebrated the department’s largest junior firefighter inauguration to date.
More than 2,000 New York City children from more than 50 elementary schools took the Junior Firefighter’s Pledge and were sworn in as junior firefighters during the ceremony. Students were selected from schools in areas with the highest risk of fires throughout the five boroughs.
The oath, administered by Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano, was aimed to remind children of fire safety tips learned in school and encourage them to share their knowledge with others.
In addition to the swearing-in ceremony, the FDNY provided demonstrations using ladder rescues, rope slides and proper treatment of hazardous materials. A team of firefighters set up tents outside of the FDNY’s fire safety education on-road unit. The truck, stationed in Bayside, Queens, goes to public places where firefighters give out information and fire-safety apparatuses free of charge.
“We try to tell people that the most dangerous places are in our own homes,” said Alvin Kevelier, a Queens firefighter. “We give out smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and baking soda to people who come to learn about how to be safe.”
Established more than 80 years ago, the annual Fire Prevention Week commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire killed more than 250 people, destroyed 17,400 structures and left 100,000 people homeless. Fire departments throughout the nation remember the victims by informing the public about fire safety and prevention.
And the FDNY’s effort to educate New Yorkers has paid off.
“Fire-related deaths are at historic lows over the past 7 years due in large part to the tremendous work done by the Fire Safety Education Unit and FDNY Foundation,” Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said in a written statement.
Amid the sea of red, plastic fire helmets, it was clear the children were enjoying the opportunity to learn about fire safety in an interactive, dynamic way. FDNY Fire Safety mascot Hot Dog, a Dalmatian clad in full firefighter apparel, waved from atop a building as the newly sworn in junior firefighters enthusiastically chanted his name.
“The kids had a great day,” said Deborah Wortman, a second-grade teacher at PS 15 in Queens, who brought her class to the event. “They had a snack on the bus, they got to see Hot Dog — some of them even thought that Beyonce’s sister was up there on stage. They just loved it.”
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