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Putting Fire Safety on Front Burner

Local youngsters have been learning to “stop, drop and roll” if their clothes catch fire, to remind their parents about checking smoke detector batteries and never to play with matches or lighters.

Those lessons, part of a four-month pilot program called “Learn Not to Burn,” ended this week as members of the Anaheim Fire Department visited elementary schools to congratulate the students on their diligence.

“These are our high-risk groups,” Fire Inspector Robyn Halesworth said of children in preschool through third grade, the target group for the program. Youngsters in that age group are often those who set fires accidentally, she said.

The program was launched in 10 Anaheim schools with a $20,000 grant from the Massachusetts-based National Fire Protection Assn. and support from Anaheim Memorial Hospital. Instructional materials were provided in English and Spanish.

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Among the teachers who volunteered to participate was Ann Smith of Dr. Jonas E. Salk Elementary School.

“It’s very important for young children to learn about fire safety,” said Smith as she watched 27 of her second-graders at a presentation by the Fire Department on Wednesday. “It makes a difference. There are so many children who do get burned.”

Another Jonas Salk teacher who volunteered for the program, Jean Bell, said the fire safety lessons were reinforced earlier this week when her third-grade students heard about a $1-million fire that ravaged an apartment complex in Anaheim.

“They were all talking about that,” Bell said. “They asked me, ‘Mrs. Bell, do you think they dropped and rolled?’ It was very vivid to them.”

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Based on tests given at the beginning and end of the program, the 10 classrooms that took part in the program showed knowledge gains ranging from 22% to 27%, “which is just excellent,” Halesworth said.

“This is a way we can foster vital, life-saving behavior by the students and their families,” Halesworth said. “If it raises the awareness level, we’ve done a great deal.”

“Learn Not to Burn” will likely be expanded to 20 classrooms in Anaheim next year. Fire Chief Jeff Bowman said he hopes the program will eventually be available citywide.

“It’s clearly proven to be very successful,” Bowman said. “This is the long-term solution to fire safety, to reach these children at an early age.”

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