January 3, 2009
Dayna Hilton is a nationally recognized fire safety educator. In addition to her fire safety messages on PBS Kids Sprout Network, Dayna has appeared on the Fox News Channel Morning Show Fox & Friends. Dayna was also the 2009 recipient of the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire and Life Safety “Educator of the Year Award” and is the author of an educational book for children titled “Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog”. [18 min.]
To learn more about Firefighter Dayna and Fire Safety Education, Click Here
Start off by giving us some background about how you got started with fire safety education.
I became a firefighter in the year 2000, and the more I learned about the fire service in general, the more I wanted to become involved in the fire safety education aspect of the fire service. So in 2002, I took a course at the National Fire Academy, and this course focused on volunteer, rural fire departments, and I learned a lot from that class, was able to take a lot from that, and then started in earnest with our fire safety education program, like I mentioned, in 2002. And ever since, it’s just grown and grown and grown to what it’s become today.
What are some creative ways to engage the community during fire prevention week?
Fire prevention is something that needs to be shared, not only during that week, but year-round. First of all, you want to do a risk assessment in your area. For instance, if you have a high number of incidents involving children, do you have cooking fires—find out what your particular problem is in your area and then develop your program to meet those needs.
Fire Safety Awareness Parade is something that you can do, it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Another thing we do after this Fire Safety Awareness Parade is that all of the fire trucks and all of the other emergency-type vehicles, along with other community organizations, have what’s called a KidsFest Safety Fair. Now I can share with you that we do both the Fire Safety Awareness Parade and the KidsFest Safety Fair with no funding. We have fire trucks at the KidsFest Safety Fairs, and we have various activities like a junior firefighter challenge, a safety house, the dive team has information and they are able to share their equipment with folks.
There are many innovative things that you can do without it costing a lot of money. Billboards contest is another idea. If you can secure sponsorship, have maybe a bank sponsor the contest or some other organization, an insurance company, you can open this contest to all the schools in your area or in your county, or even just a specific school, or even have a competitive contest between schools. There are just many things that you can do to make that a fun activity. A lot of fire departments across the country also hold a poster contest, and that seems to be a great way to share the fire safety messages as well.
For departments with limited resources, what grade level should be your top priority?
You want to make sure to base what you do on your risks. It could be children playing with matches or lighters, for example, so you want to make sure that you base your fire safety programming on those particular risks. If your department does have limited resources and you do want to reach those risk populations, one thing that you can do is start a Fire Corp program. Fire Corp are citizen advocates who provide non-operational assistance to your program. And we utilize the Fire Corp in our fire safety education program. We have a local university here with students that are willing to help us. They’re actually looking for community service hours so it fits perfectly with what we do in that way. We’re able to reach more people. See if you can start a fire corp. It could be with college students, it could be retired firefighters, it could be your auxiliary—it’s a great way to try to spread the fire safety message.
Dayna, talk about in the early grades what you use as your approach and what techniques you use to teach fire safety?
We like to use educationally-based, innovative, visual activities during our fire safety programming. We base fire safety presentations on various curriculum. We use fire protection publications, fire safety for young children, and also use National Fire Protection Association material in other parts of our programming. We like to make it very visual.
We will start out with, of course, introducing our firefighters, and then we go into our “toys and tools” segment, which is where we share with the children the difference between toys and tools. Tools are something that grown-ups use, and of course, toys are something that is okay for children to play with. So we have a bag that we use, and children LOVE surprises! So we put these various examples of toys and tools in our bag, and we’ll pull out a doll, and we’ll ask the children if it’s a toy or a tool, and they’ll, of course, say a toy, and we go through the various things. We’ll have a remote toy car, a ball, you can just use any type of object that a child could relate with as being a toy. And then interspersed with that, we have a lighter and matches in there. So when we pull out the matches, if we say, “is this a toy or a tool,” generally the children will all say in unison, “it’s a tool.” That’s where we emphasize the importance that children should never ever touch matches or lighters, that they should tell a grown-up. We then ask the children, “what do you do when you find matches or lighters,” and then they will say in unison, “tell a grown-up.” And we’ll do that a couple times, and repetition is really, really important, so we’ll mention that a couple times and let them also provide their answers so that they get that stuck in their head as something that they definitely do not want to touch.
We then talk about the importance of smoke alarms. We just go over that briefly with the younger grades. We don’t want to get too complicated with the kindergartners and the first graders. But we do tell them the importance of making sure that a grown-up tests the alarms, change the batteries twice a year, and then also when they hear the smoke alarm, that they need to get out, that they don’t need to go back into the house for anything, they just need to get out of the house.
We talk about the importance of an escape plan, knowing two ways out, that sort of thing, and then also the importance of crawling low. At that point, we have our firefighters dress out in their turnouts, we want to stress the importance that firefighters are their friends, and the firefighters will come out in their normal street clothes and then the children will watch as the firefighter puts on each part of their gear, and at that point, we all ask, “what are the boots help keep safe,” and the children will say, “their feet!” So we go through each part of their turnouts until they’re fully dressed, and they still try to emphasize that this firefighter is their friend, and that they are there to help them.
At the very end of the program, we do a junior firefighter oath, our assistance chief will administer that. Also, I do want to mention that during that particular program, we do the fire safety song, and then Sparkles will come out and demonstrate how to crawl low. And when we have the dog demonstrated, I do want to mention that she is just reinforcing the message. She is providing that visual, but we do show the children how important it is that they crawl low on their hands and knees, and so that seems to be a pretty effective program for us.
We’ve actually had two saves from that particular program. A save is when a child knew what to do when they were faced with an actual fire related situation, so that’s basically how we do our program in a larger setting.
In a smaller setting, we will do things just on a smaller scale, depending on the number of children, and how much time we have, but we’ll take the most important of those messages and then incorporate that into that specific program.
We focus a large amount of time on public education in the schools. What are some ways to measure our effectiveness and follow up with parents to see if our message is making its way home?
Some of the ways in which you can measure the effectiveness of your program, you can do pretest and posttest, you can do skill tests, surveys, lost entries statistics. What we do with our department is we do a community risk profile on a regular basis, and then we are continually collecting data. Our programs are updated and then they’re changed to reach that particular target population. One innovative way in which we measure the effectiveness of our program is we have what’s called a Reading with Sparkles program. So we go in during fire prevention week, we do the big fire safety presentations, but we follow that up with the Reading with Sparkles program.
Each week, either a firefighter from our department or a Fire Corp member will go into the local elementary school and read Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog. After reading the book, we’re able to get a feel for what the children retain during fire prevention week, and if, for example, they’re still not quite sure about the crawling low aspect, then that Fire Corp member or firefighter will go back and discuss that more at length. So we get a great feel for what they retained and then what we need to reinforce.
Another way in which we can make sure that the children actually follow through with what we’ve shown that particular day, we will provide them with an incentive. You would not believe how something very, very small can really, really work! But this year, we had a little bracelet that had a fire safety message on it, and we asked the children to go home, make an escape map with their family, and then bring it back to their teacher. And if they brought it back to their teacher, they got one of these bracelets. And I would say probably 80% of those children went home, made a plan, and then were given one of those bracelets, and they took those back home from their teacher, put them on their refrigerator, and now, all the children that participated in that particular incentive have a plan now. So we’re really excited about that.
Dayna, you mentioned several different standardized fire prevention programs that might be available for firefighters to use for public education. What are your favorites, and of those, which are low cost or free?
I have three favorites that I like to incorporate into our fire safety programming.
The first is the Home Safety Council. They have a great fire prevention program for the elderly and various age groups that I like to utilize in my programming. The next is Oklahoma State University Fire Protection Publications Fire Safety for Young Children curriculum. That is also one of my favorites, and that is one that we base Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog on. National Fire Protection Association also has a great set of curriculum. We like to “Learn not to Burn” curriculum.
As far as free and low-cost, the Oklahoma State University, their Fire Safety for Young Children curriculum that I mentioned? This curriculum is free and available to teachers and fire departments as well. And what’s really nice about this is soon, they are going to be coming out with a CD that is going to be a companion to this curriculum. It will enable firefighters to learn how to do a fire station tour, for example, and also will share with firefighters how to do a classroom presentation, so if you have firefighters that are not used to doing either one of those, those CDs will provide some tips. But this curriculum is free and available to, as I mentioned, fire departments and fire safety educators and teachers. So if you go to the fire protection publication website, you’ll be able to find that. And then the Home Safety Council has what’s called an Expert Network. Firefighters can join that free of charge, and that Expert Network provides free materials to your department or organization, and they also have free webinars that you can take advantage of, so those are some great resources if you don’t have a lot of funding. There are materials that are out there that are available to you.
You’ve had great success using fire dogs as tools to keep kids focused on your message. What props and other techniques have you seen that are affordable but effective?
One thing that we’ve used, I got this idea from Sheryl Edwards from the Lakeland Fire Department, she uses what’s called a “Traveling Trunk.” A Traveling Trunk is a very innovative way in which you can share the fire safety message. We have a Traveling Trunk that our department uses, and each year, we take it to the elementary school, and they keep it for a month. They keep it the month of October. And inside the trunk are various items for the teachers—including books, videos, puzzles, anything related to firefighters, and we also include a set of turnouts in which the children can try on the turnouts, and that’s a very popular way in which we help share the fire safety message. The children love it and the teachers really enjoy it as well. It’s a great way to help reinforce everything.
After seeing you on television with your Dalmatians, some fire departments might be interested in having a fire dog as part of their public education program. Talk about what’s involved in training and caring for a firehouse Dalmatian.
Having a dog is not as easy as it looks. And trust me, when I first got into this, I thought, oh, it’ll be nice to have a dog and have her help assist with fire safety programming. The more I got into it, the more I learned there’s a much bigger picture. It’s just really important to first realize that you need to have a good, solid fire safety education program, because the last thing you want to do is to have somebody go, “oh, there goes so-and-so and their dog and pony show!” You really want to have a sound, educational program, and then incorporate your dog into that program. I think one of the things that people really don’t realize is the amount of work that it takes to utilize an animal in their fire safety programming. You need to take into consideration that you may have extensive vet bills, the time that it takes to train the animal, to the liability that there might be, and the help that you need to have this animal participate in a program. When we do a program, we may need to take two or three extra people with us, so there can be a lot involved. It’s not a decision that you want to take lightly. You want to really, really give a lot of thought before you just jump into it.
The vast majority of fire departments in the country are rural and volunteer. What are some ways for fire service leaders in these communities to motivate their firefighters to get involved in fire safety and fire prevention activities?
There is a class, at the National Fire Academy that changed my life. At the time it was called Prevention Solutions for small departments and communities. Now it’s called Leading Community Fire Prevention. And that class is focused on small departments that are rural and volunteer, and focuses on ways in which you can form coalitions to be able to have a stronger fire safety program, and also, ways in which you can motivate fire fighters, your fire chief, to buy in to your fire safety efforts. So this course gives you a great basis for learning how to do that, and then to be able to take that back to your fire department. And it’s just so important to have that buy in from your fire service leaders, because if you don’t have the support from them and you don’t have the support from your firefighters, it’s just going to be a struggle. So that is just one way in which these fire departments can learn a little bit more about how to do that.
Are there any other tips you’d like to give to our listeners?
Take as many classes as you can. Network with as many people as you can. And you never know when that person that you might meet might be somebody that can truly help you with your fire safety program, and remember that fire safety is something that you need to focus on every day. And see if you can share that passion that you have with fire safety with those around you, and just do everything you can to help keep everyone fire safe.
Dayna Hilton, thanks so much for talking with us today.
Thank you so much. Sure do appreciate everything that you’re doing to help spread the fire safety message, and just appreciate it. Thank you.
If you’d like more information about Dayna and fire safety education, you can visit her website at www.firefighterdayna.com.