Preschooler Mason gets a first-hand view of his dream job. Photo: Kolby Asbra

KPFD has partnered with the school district to include fire prevention and life safety, responding to bullying and understanding anxiety and mental health.

Key Peninsula Fire Department visited a local cooperative preschool classroom in Home Nov. 8 to deliver a lesson on fire safety to children, ages 3 to 5, as part of the department’s Public Education and Community Outreach Program.

“I work with the school district to deliver a fire and safety curriculum to every grade level,” said Prevention Officer and Volunteer Battalion Chief Anne Nesbit, who visited the classroom with a lieutenant, an EMT and two paramedics.

“We didn’t have our own fire safety program until last year,” said Key Peninsula Cooperative Preschool teacher Kolby Asbra. “Anne spearheaded it to make it happen. If it weren’t for someone as amazing as her, we’d still be using the Gig Harbor Fire Department to teach our schools their fire safety lessons.”

“Years and years ago, we used to do our own,” Nesbit said. “Then we started contracting with Gig Harbor. And they did a great job. But I wrote a proposal saying we needed to take prevention back and shadowed Gig Harbor for a year. I was able to make it my own, which was great.”

“There’s a full curriculum and a whole plan,” Asbra said. “It’s really good for us.”

Nesbit began KPFD’s “Firefighter Friendly” lesson with flashcards, asking the preschoolers to indicate “hot” or “cold” with their thumbs. When Nesbit held up a card showing a book of matches, 5-year-old Mason Erwin stuck his right thumb up for “HOT!” and excitedly raised his left hand.

“I’m going to be a firefighter when I grow up!” Mason announced.

Volunteer Battalion Lieutenant Dave Vezzani stood at the front of the room and smiled.

“This is firefighter Dave,” said Nesbit. “Let’s all say hi to firefighter Dave!”

Nesbit explained that firefighter Dave would look different in his full firefighting gear, which was spread out around him on the classroom’s colorful “Circle Time” carpet. She then invited the children to touch Vezzani’s fire boots, flame resistant bunker gear, gloves, air pack, mask and helmet.

“I’m going to be a firefighter when I grow up!”

Vezzani proceeded to slowly put on each item, one at a time.

“Is it still firefighter Dave?” Nesbit asked the preschoolers again and again as Vezzani transformed. “Isn’t he cool?”

In a situation where a young child is trapped in a fire, it is important for them to understand what their rescuer is going to look like and how they will sound. The SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) worn by firefighters makes their voices deep, raspy and mechanical.

“We really want to take out the scariness of the firefighter,” Nesbit said. “We don’t want them to be afraid.”

It’s difficult to imagine hiding under a bed, surrounded by flames, and remaining quiet when a firefighter enters the room. But for a scared child, this is a realistic scenario that KPFD’s “Firefighter Friendly” curriculum works hard to address and prevent.

“Firefighter Dave sounds different now,” Nesbit said to the children.

In his transformed voice, Vezzani announced, “Fire Department. Is anybody here?”

“I’m here!” the preschoolers shouted back.

“How can you tell firefighter Dave is smiling?” Nesbit asked as the preschoolers peered through Vezzani’s mask, going on to explain that firefighter Dave’s squinting eyes meant he was smiling and a friend, and there to help.

“Mason said he really enjoyed the visit from the firefighters,” said Mason’s mom, Heather Erwin. “We’re so thankful they spent the time to come and visit the kids and let them explore their trucks and cool equipment.”

“I really liked being able to get into the fire truck and the ambulance,” Mason said. “I was especially glad to see my friend, Anne.”

“Not only does she go to the elementary schools, but she comes out here to a program that isn’t even a school district program, for free,” Asbra said. “We’re so lucky that she goes out of her way to make it work for the whole community.”

“I’m really grateful for our leaders in the department realizing we can do it,” Nesbit said. “The reaction in the community and the schools has been overwhelmingly positive that our fire department is the one in the classroom and out in the community delivering the fire safety lessons.”

“This year we are proud to announce that we are in Key Peninsula Middle School with a curriculum regarding life safety, bullying and understanding anxiety and mental health,” she said. “We’ve partnered with Peninsula School District and we go in with their lead counselor.”

Life Safety lessons offered by KPFD include water safety, child passenger safety, emergency preparedness, senior fall prevention, fire prevention, winter and holiday safety, bike and pedestrian safety, distracted driving, mental health and suicide awareness. Safe Sitter Classes, CPR certification, and Stop the Bleed tourniquet education are also offered to the public.