Young campers learn to play it safe

July 13, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

On his second day at Play It Safe Camp, 8-year-old David Bell of Port Deposit easily identified potential hazards in the replica of a child's bedroom - the towel tossed over a lampshade, the wire running under a rug and the space heater left in the middle of the floor.

When the room filled with fake smoke, David knew that he had to jump out the window.

"You have to get out the quickest way you can," said fellow camper and jumper Allie Frick, 8, of Havre de Grace.

Not to worry. No injuries resulted from the mock fire incident. David and Allie landed on a cushy pad and raced to the flag pole with other campers.

The possible dangers were built into the Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department's Safety House, a traveling exhibit that helps teach children fire safety. The $60,000 trailer, with its re-created kitchen and child's bedroom, both filled with numerous possible fire sources, came to the 15th annual Play It Safe Camp at Level Volunteer Fire Co. last week.

"We can simulate a house fire or a natural disaster to help prepare children how to act in an emergency," said Inspector Chris Starling of the APG department. "We teach them not to hide in a fire but to leave right away. This is hands-on, and it can be frightening. But it is an effective learning tool."

After going through the house, Kyle Cameron, 8, of Havre de Grace said, "I learned when there is smoke, you stay low to the floor and check the door for heat with the back of your hand, and then get out. And I learned you don't hide from a fire in your house because it will find you."

For the three-day camp, about 120 elementary school-age children rode on a firetruck, blew sirens and handled the hoses.

"We try to get them to experience what firefighters do," said volunteer Ashtin Jackson.

The children practiced escaping from a smoke-filled building, learned how to prepare for a weather emergency and heard why they should avoid playing near train tracks. Nearly 50 volunteers helped put together the company's popular camp and kept it focused on accident prevention.

"It is really good to get them young," said Rhonda Polk, the camp organizer. "They are like sponges and can absorb a lot. We give them a fun way to learn without lecturing them."

Volunteer Dawn Workman's four children attended the camp, and three of them are now emergency medical technicians for the fire company.

"This camp is the best thing, with so much hands-on learning for kids," she said. "They will carry these lessons on in their lives."

Nearly half the campers are repeaters who participate every year, Polk said.

"They come back every year, until they are too old, and even then, they come back as helpers," Polk said.

Brandon Standiford, 11, volunteered this year after several stints as a camper. He repeatedly set up cones, which were the targets of hoses aimed by young campers.

"I came back so the little kids can have fun and learn something here," Brandon said. "I remember a lot of things from camp."

The camp added a railroad-safety program this year, a timely inclusion given the many trains in the area, said Art Lawson, community resource officer for Amtrak. He led the campers through several activities that demonstrated the speed, power and danger of trains.

"The idea is to keep kids away from train tracks," Lawson said. "They don't realize how fast a train goes, how quiet it can be and how it can come out of nowhere."

Devin Morse, 8, of Havre de Grace, who assured Lawson he could run really fast even down a railroad track, volunteered for an exercise in train safety. When the camper audience yelled, "Go," Devin took off at his best speed, only to run right into Lawson, who played the role of the train.

"You can't play around the tracks," Lawson said. "The first rule is, trains can be on any track at any time, even when you think you know the schedule."

No camper rivaled Matthew Saylor, 6, for enthusiasm. He arrived in full turnout gear, from helmet to boots. The outfit served him well and kept him dry as he tried to handle a hefty hose and aim it at a target.

"He lives in that gear," Polk said of her nephew, whose father is a firefighter in Baltimore. "My son was the same way at that age. He's 16 now and a volunteer here."

Polk generally limits camp to 100 children. But she had many more applications this year and allowed 120.

"I didn't have the heart to turn anyone away," she said. "Who knows? We might miss the one kid who really needs these lessons."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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