Little Town, Big Lessons
On a sunny day in July, the scaled-down streets of the Children’s Safety Village are filled with kids learning about fire and traffic safety. The village is complete with streets, buildings, power lines and a pond—all scaled down to a kid-friendly size to better engage and teach safety aspects. A donated school bus is also on-site to teach kids how to be safe around buses and to ensure the driver can see them. Led by Major Mike Fitzgerald, the kids seem to just be playing in the mini town, but while walking around the buildings, they learn when it’s safe to cross the street—after looking left, right and left again—and why it’s important to look both ways before stepping off the curb.
When it comes to teaching our children to be safe, involvement is the best way to get that lesson to stick. According to Mike Barnes, Edmond Fire Department’s Chief of Fire Prevention, participation is the driving force behind the Children’s Safety Village.
The Children’s Safety Village opened in 2010 when Major Fitzgerald pitched the idea to his chief, based on a similar venue he’d seen in the past, where children came to learn hands-on safety lessons about personal safety. The lessons offered at the Safety Village are flexible: “Instruction is based on the time of year, the request of the groups attending and also trends in the community,” says Major Fitzgerald. “We’re here to make ambassadors of safety,” said Chief Barnes. “We want to make an experience—so kids don’t just come here to learn but also have fun with it.”
Red, Yellow, Green—What do they mean?
After learning about fire prevention and how to find a safe exit (Feel the door; is it hot? Don’t open it.), how to low-crawl through the room (made more fun using tunnels) and how to safely exit through a window, the kids are unleashed to the streets for their hands-on moving safety briefing.
What do these lights mean—red, yellow and green? What should you do at a stop sign? What about railroad tracks? What should you do if you see your parents texting while driving? These are all questions asked and answered by Major Fitzgerald—or “Firefighter Mike” as the kids call him—as the group winds through tiny streets acting as responsible pedestrians or safe drivers. While it may seem premature to teach four-year-olds how to be good drivers, knowing how cars and drivers are supposed to behave on the road will ultimately help to make them better pedestrians—and safer citizens.
Finally, the kids each receive their own driver’s license and are unleashed onto a closed off parking lot filled with bicycles and pedal cars. The newly-licensed kids are reminded that the helmets at each vehicle are to be worn on their heads at all times before taking off down the streets for a joy ride. While some lessons are a work-in-progress—many of the kids can’t help but use their push cars as bumper cars—the kids take pride in ensuring they are driving on the right side of the road, paying attention to the traffic controls and making sure everyone else does, as well.
Big Plans for the Future
Safety curriculum updates are being considered in the future, including poison, firearm, construction site, electric substation and well site safety. The current classroom building is going to be remodeled into an apartment-like environment to reinforce home fire safety. “Cooking fires are the number one cause of fire deaths in our community right now,” says Chief Barnes, verifying why learning hands-on kitchen fire safety is important.
Presently, the curriculum is geared toward younger children—up to first grade—but future plans may include curriculum for older kids, too. “Getting to middle schoolers will require a different approach,” says Major Fitzgerald. “Topics need to be more relevant to their age—not so much fire safety plans but more bullying and abduction information. We would also like to give kids input on how math and sciences are used in firefighting,” offering kids insight on how the subjects they’re learning in school may apply to their future careers.
The Children’s Safety Village is free and open to the public for groups of at least ten kids. It is located adjacent to the Edmond Fire Department on Covell Rd, just east of I-35. Visit edmondok.com or call 405-216-7303 for more information.