When Capt. Dustin McHaffie with the Bolivar City Fire Department talks with students at local schools about fire safety, he knows he’s bound to get some interesting answers.
“I ask them if they have smoke alarms. They look at me like, ‘What?,’” McHaffie said. “I say, ‘You know when your dad burns the macaroni and cheese, does something beep?’ and they say, ‘Oh yeah.’”
It’s a fun exchange, the firefighter said, but when he hears students still answer, “No,” he knows there’s still work to be done.
“Well, then your homework is you’re going to go home and ask your parents about smoke alarms, because they save lives,” he said.
It’s why education — starting with kids — is a big part of the department’s mission, he said.
“It’s preparing them for the future,” he said. “We’ve got to get them to go home and talk to their parents about fire safety.”
According to a Federal Emergency Management Agency news release, “most Americans underestimate their risk for fire.” The National Fire Protection Association has declared fire prevention week as Sunday through Saturday, Oct. 6-12, and this month is federally dedicated as national fire prevention month, according to the association’s website.
McHaffie said the department has a series of events starting this week centering on outreach and education.
From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Fridays, Oct. 11, Oct. 25 and Nov. 8, BCFD will host Friday S’more Fun nights, opening the fire station at 312 S. Springfield Ave. for tours and fall snacks, according to a BCFD release.
“BCFD will have a fire pit and invites everyone to come down, tour the fire station and cook s’mores with the firefighters,” the release stated.
Toasted marshmallows are actually a favorite treat among Bolivar’s first responders, McHaffie said.
“Two shifts in a row have actually broken out the grill,” he said. “We won’t ever pass up s’mores.”
The department previously hosted a series of summer events, but McHaffie said this time they’re hoping to take advantage of cooler weather.
Organizers hope to include hay bales and hot chocolate at what’s shaping up to be the safest campfire in Polk County, as well. But sprinkled among the fall sweets is a real chance to connect with and inform those who make up the community the department works to protect, McHaffie said.
“It’s just kind of an informal way to talk to people about smoke alarms and fire safety,” he said. “We’ve been trying to talk with people about sleeping with their bedroom doors closed. It helps prevent the spread of fires in homes.”
The public also routinely has questions about the department’s daily functions, he said, adding many are surprised to learn firefighters serve out their shifts at the city’s Public Safety Center on West Walnut Street, while its trucks are stored on Springfield Avenue.
There are also simple goals in mind, he said. For instance, it’s important that kids know that firefighters are their friends.
“They’ve got to know not to be afraid of us, and to come to us if they need help,” he said.
McHaffie said he hopes tours of the truck and a chance to play games with the firefighters will help build those connections.
“The idea is to just get out in the community and show them that we’re here for them and do some fire safety talks with them,” he said.