With the help of Senior Firefighter Paramedic and Fire Prevention Officer Bradley Dattilio, Flynn Preska pulled apart the fire extinguisher’s safety pin, walked a couple yards forward and let it spray, dousing a flaming stove. A few minutes later, two firefighters geared up, lit fire to two oiled saucepans and then demonstrated the correct way to put them out. Such is the norm on Fire Prevention Day, which was held Saturday, Oct. 6, and for years has helped craft a relationship between the South Burlington Fire Department and the community they serve, while teaching the basics of fire safety.
“There’s an old saying that the best fire department is the one that never goes out,” said Deputy Chief Terry Francis. Rather than responding to fires, the department’s primary goal is preventing them, and educating the public is vital to achieving it, Francis said.
Before extinguishing the flames, Preska had to learn the acronym PASS: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. That guided him through that process, and during the kitchen fire demonstration, Deputy Chief Francis narrated the firefighters’ different responses, explaining why one worked and the other did not. Inside the spacious garage, firefighters used a dummy to teach the fundamentals of CPR, while Sgt. Roger Gosselin manned a table covered with emergency medical equipment and chatted with passersby about the EMS services the station offered.
However, to provide the best service to the community, the department has to do more than just educate.
“We need to make sure the bond is everything we want it to be,” said Captain Micah Genzlinger. “It helps them to feel comfortable calling us.”
Walking around the station, it was easy to see that bond was tight. Deputy Chief Francis spent time talking with kids as they filled their balloons with gas from the station’s helium tanks. When someone needed an energy boost after playing a few rounds of cornhole or jumping in the bouncy house, they could head to the snack bar, where firefighters dished out free hot dogs, chips and cookies.
The department has put on similar events since the 1980s, Dattilio said.
“It used to be an open house…we would barbecue chicken and feed close to 100 people,” he said.
It was the biggest fundraiser for the station, a full day affair with people setting up tents in the parking lot. Eventually, however, the station did away with its volunteer department, and the rate of emergency calls began to rise. The barbecues became expensive and impractical, though the department maintained a small budget to cover an afternoon of food and drink, Dattilio said.
While the event has changed, so has the level of participation.
“There are definitely fewer people that come,” said Capt. Genzlinger. Despite the smaller crowd, the fire department takes care to add whatever educational component they can, and continue the tradition of strong community interaction, Genzlinger said. His wife, Tara, said these events do something more.
“It puts a face on it, to think of them as humans and not just heroes,” she said.
SOURCE: Joey Waldinger, Contributor