Akeelah Webster emerged from the window as a fire alarm beeped and smoke roiled behind her. She scooted down the ladder as a Homewood firefighter watched, arms ready to catch her if she made a misstep.
“I’ve done this before,” she told the firefighter. But it was clear from her smile that she didn’t mind practice as she climbed out of the Homewood Fire Department’s mobile fire safety demonstration unit.
She and two friends were at the Homewood Fire Department Open House on Saturday, Oct. 10, with her mother, Homewood PTA President Ann-Marie Webster.
Webster said it was their first visit to the fire department open house, and she was impressed.
“It’s very interactive for the kids,” she said. “Kids learn by experience. They are learning, and they are having fun.”
“That’s the whole idea,” said Fire Chief Bob Grabowski later. “The kids love it.”
Not only do kids have fun climbing into fire trucks, but they get a number of basic safety lessons in the form of games and activities.
The history of fire department open house events goes back to the years following the great Chicago fire of 1871, Grabowski said. These days, though, fewer and fewer departments continue the practice.
Homewood’s annual event is still going strong, he said. The event was moved to Saturday after being held on Sundays for a number of years.
“We’ve over doubled our size this year, which is great,” he said. “We brought back the demonstrations a few years ago. Those have both been big hits.”
Firefighters showed how they extricate crash victims from damaged vehicles by cutting their way into a car. The second demonstration involved setting fire to two simple wooden structures to show the effect of sprinkler systems.
Grabowski said the demonstrations give residents a rare chance to see firefighters in action.
The live fire demonstration underscores the value of sprinkler systems, he said. The structure without a sprinkler installed was engulfed in flames in less than two minutes and had to be extinguished by firefighters. In the structure with a sprinkler system, the fire wasn’t able to get momentum before the sprinklers were triggered, soon extinguishing the blaze.
Grabowski told the audience that even when sprinklers are unable to extinguish a fire they are able to keep it in check until firefighters arrive.
The extrication demonstration shows how advanced emergency technologies have become.
“When I started 35 years ago it would take us an hour to do what they just did in a few minutes,” he said.