Kids, kids, kids took over the Hellsgate Fire Station during its open house to celebrate fire prevention month.
“We did this eight years ago and only five people showed up,” said Fire Chief Gary Hatch. This year, he said increased publicity helped — and scheduling it during the school’s fall break didn’t hurt either.
Kids took over the firehouse. They climbed over the ladder truck and sat in the driver’s seat and plunked headphones over their ears.
They dressed themselves in fire jackets that overwhelmed them, helmets tilted to the side, grabbed garden hoses and ran to douse out an orange cone.
And when the Native Air helicopter landed, they pointed in the sky and yelled, “It’s landing, it’s landing!” Once the copter was on the ground, the kids rushed the machine and lined up for a chance to sit inside.
Captain Rick Heron served as master of ceremonies for the evening. Hatch said Heron worked hard to organize the event.
“We received a grant to educate the public about kitchen fires,” said Heron, standing in front of a prop made up of a pan and propane fire made to look like a fire on a stove.
Attendees of the open house used a fire extinguisher to put out flames. Sensors on the front of the prop decided when the fire had enough dousing and shut off flames.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, about 164,500 cooking fires occur in American homes each year.
The number of cooking fires peaks in November and declines during the summer months.
Most cooking fires happen in the evening between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. said the U.S. Fire Administration report.
Heron said the Hellsgate firefighters plan to take their cooking fire prop around town. Later this month, the firefighters and their prop will show up at Home Depot. Already, Heron said Hellsgate personnel have gone to numerous homeowner associations to talk to people about cooking fires. The firefighters had homeowners use the prop to understand what it takes to put out a cooking fire.
While all that was fun for the kids and adults visiting the fire station, the firefighters planned their own fun — lighting a car on fire.
First, they showed the audience the numerous tools they use to tear a car apart.
“I went on one call where a guy had his motor home fall on him as he changed a tire,” said Heron, “We used one of our jack tools to get the vehicle off of him.”
The Hellsgate fire folk used a small white, four-door car with Minnesota plates to cut and then rip the top off the car.
Heron perched on the bars of the fence in front of the car and yelled explanations to the audience.
“We tear the car apart to get to the injured passenger,” he said as the firefighters pulled apart the car.
Then the fun started.
“We’re going to start this car on fire,” said Heron.
The Hellsgate firefighters and reservists stuffed the engine with straw. The water truck stood ready nearby.
The kids started chanting, “Fire, fire, fire!” as Heron’s crew lit the engine on fire.
“We hopefully got all of the gas out of the car,” said Heron, but he moved everyone back just to make sure all were safe.
As the fire burned, a small explosion got everyone’s attention and firefighters moved in to stop the blaze.
“What does a fire need to burn?” Heron asked the kids too engrossed in the fire to answer. “It needs fuel and oxygen,” he said. “Right now the hood is down, watch what happens when they lift up the hood and the fire gets more air. It’s dangerous for the firemen.”
But the Hellsgate crew got it under control quickly with a hose that releases enough water in 15 seconds that a garden hose takes 10 minutes to equal.
“That’s why you should call 911 as soon as you can,” said Hatch.
The fire chief reminded everyone that firefighters are trained and have the equipment to douse a fire much more quickly than residents.
“But people don’t call because they are embarrassed or really believe they can handle it themselves,” he said.
And that represented the purpose of the Hellsgate open house. Firefighters are here to help the community and the quicker they get involved, the less damage to everything and everyone.
But the kids only cared that they had fun, were able to watch a car burn and had a free hot dog.