Families flocked to the Springfield Volunteer Fire Department’s annual open house, which was held Saturday to mark the conclusion of Fire Prevention Week.
Volunteer Fire Chief Chad Zimmerman said the event has been going on for five decades and is a tradition for the department. It is also the department’s main fundraiser to support equipment purchases.
Sandwiches, cake and more food options were available to diners for a freewill donation, with no set price. Zimmerman said he hoped the event would serve 300 to 400 people.
“It’s great seeing how the town supports us,” he said. “Hopefully everyone has fun and the kids learn some fire safety, too.”
One of the activities aimed at teaching children fire safety tips was the fire safety trailer in the station’s parking lot.
The trailer is owned by the Omaha Fire Department but was purchased with a tri-county grant.
Public Education Officer David Mann, with the Omaha Fire Department, travels with the trailer to teach children the importance of having a home escape plan and remind them fire is a tool and not a toy.
Mann takes the trailer to events throughout the year, sometimes giving the presentation to entire schools over a six or seven hour period.
The presentation begins with a lesson on how to properly evacuate a home in case of fire, including having a meeting place outside the home, such as a mailbox, knowing at least two ways out of a house and checking doors to see if they’re hot. Next, children are given the chance to practice a “home fire drill.”
At Saturday’s practice drill, smoke filled the trailer as a smoke alarm sounded, and children tried touching the door only to find it was hot. They then climbed out the trailer’s window down a ladder attached to the side of the trailer and met up with the other children and Mann at the designated meeting place.
“The hands-on training is priceless,” Mann said. “When they can actually do it, it sticks.”
Another hands-on demonstration focused on vehicular safety rather than fire safety.
To promote seatbelt awareness, the Nebraska State Patrol brought its seat-belt convincer. The machine includes a seat-belted car seat on a track and simulates a crash at five miles per hour.
“It gives the participant sitting in the seat a jolt,” State Patrol Officer Eric Aho said. “They feel the belt stop them, even at that slow speed. It helps them remember to wear their seat belts in the future.”
In addition to the educational components, fun activities for children abounded. At the entrance to the event, a table was set up to “build your own fire truck” by folding a printed model. Child-size firefighter outfits were available, with a scale fire truck to play on as well.
There was also a free cake walk, with pastries for the winners donated by the Springfield Volunteer Fire and Rescue Auxiliary. Zimmerman’s wife, Ronda, started the cake walk years ago and provided at least 15 desserts for this year’s event.
Children could also win fire department tote bags by asking five members of the volunteer fire department what their full-time jobs were.
When not working at the fire station, Zimmerman is a salesman for a hazardous waste company. He joined the volunteer fire department 18 years ago, when a friend of his was also volunteering for the department.
“I thought it’d be fun,” he said. “It’s just part of my life now. It gets into your blood.”