Fire safety training with the real thing

"Sixth grader Aleesha Miller makes a face while she tries to put out a gas fire with a fire extinguisher during a demonstration at Langley Middle School Thursday.Matt Johnson / staff photoFaced with a gas fire in the parking lot of the Langley Middle School, sixth grader Jessie Winn had a lot going through her mind when she grabbed a fire extinguisher to douse the flames.In her science class with LMS teacher Tom Sage, Winn had learned that there are three ways to put out a fire: Remove the fuel, remove the oxygen, or remove the heat. She had no particular desire the pick the gasoline up with her hands and remove it from the flames. Nor did she think using water to convert the flames' heat energy into steam was a good idea -- water would just splash the flames around. So she knew that a chemical extinguisher, which uses a liquid-like powder to smother flames, would be her best option.That does not mean that she wasn't scared when she aimed the extinguisher's nozzle at the flames and started shooting potassium bicarbonate on them.I was thinking it was going to blow up in my face, Winn said.Winn was actually just one of more than 100 students who took a turn at putting out a contained, practice fire set by Fire Protection District 3 volunteers in the school parking lot. Putting the fire out was a lesson in chemistry and physics, not to mention safety. And it was a good way to remind the students that this week is National Fire Safety Week, timed in remembrance of the cow that started the great Chicago fire.FD 3 has put on the demonstration for years at local schools. Last week, the district volunteers brought their portable fire, fire engines, and dozens of fire extinguishers to LMS, South Whidbey Primary School, and Langley Christian School. Volunteer Eldon Baker said the younger kids were the most easily amused. Older children, like the sixth through 11th graders at Langley Christian School, needed a more exciting demonstration. So, Baker broke out the district's water cannon.They were amazed how many hundreds of feet we could shoot it into the trees, he said.Before tackling live fire, the LMS students listened to District 3 fire prevention officer Jerry Beck explain the inner workings of fire extinguishers. He described to the students the three ways to put out a fire and how to avoid getting hurt doing it.The district's education program has had some concrete results, said FD 3 Captain Mike Cotton. Two years ago, a 16-year-old who had learned about fire extinguishers when he was a student at LMS put out a large kitchen blaze in his parents' Freeland home. The fire did $20,000 in damage, but would have destroyed the home without the teen's quick action. Other local children and teens have responded quickly in fire situations, helping to save lives and property.The district will sponsor the program again next year. "

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