The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Ventura’s Fourth Grade Safety Days was submitted in 2014 for the Ruth Vreeland Award for Engaging Youth in City Government award category.
Fire season is a year-round reality in the city of Ventura, a community that is set along the Los Padres National Forest with many hillside neighborhoods backing up to the Wildland Urban Interface. With extended drought conditions, it is increasingly critical for the city to keep residents educated about fire prevention, creating a defensible space and keeping families prepared with a wildfire action plan.
For the past three years the Ventura City Fire Department has partnered with the Ventura Unified School District to educate, inform and engage students through a dynamic and interactive program called Fourth Grade Fire Safety Days. Following the two-day event, which is held in October to coincide with National Fire Prevention Month, an essay-writing contest encourages students to share what they have learned. The winning student essay receives the coveted Fire Hydrant Award for their school. The fall timing allows teachers to introduce the topic of fire prevention, and prepare students for the event.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires set by children are responsible for more than 100 fire deaths nationwide, nearly 1,000 painful burn injuries, and hundreds of millions of dollars in property loss. Children are often the victims in these fires. While curiosity about fire is natural, fires set by children are dangerous and deadly. The National Fire Protection Association reports that children playing with fire accounted for an average of 56,300 fires per year between 2005 and 2009. Younger children are more likely to set fires in homes, while older children and teenagers are more likely to set fires outside.
Ventura’s Fourth Grade Fire Safety Days program brings together firefighters and teachers in educating children (and their families) not just about fire prevention but also about fire and emergency preparedness, and how their local fire department operates. Students learn about fire behavior, home escape plans and get to know people who work in their community.
Every opportunity to encourage city residents — including youth — to stay involved and informed allows the Ventura City Fire Department to fulfill its mission of serving the community by protecting life, property and the environmental through prevention, education and emergency response services.
The fire department’s services extend far beyond firefighting and prevention. Each fire unit has a minimum of one licensed paramedic on board including an advanced medical supply cache — as well as water and technical rescue responsibilities and hazardous materials or hazmat emergency response.
The partnership between the Ventura City Fire Department and Ventura Unified School District is important to the success of this program. City management, the school district superintendent, and administrators from each participating elementary school collaborate to make the Fourth Grade Fire Safety Days a well-orchestrated program that connects education with community involvement.
An age-appropriate curriculum was created to correlate with national health education standards, geared towards demonstrating the ability to practice healthy behaviors including avoiding/reducing risks and the ability to advocate for personal, family and community health. Children experience the excitement of getting to know local firefighters and interacting with their trucks and equipment, while learning valuable safety information.
The school district facilitates bus schedules and makes arrangements allowing 17 elementary schools to participate, transporting 1,400 students and teachers to the Fire Training Grounds over a two-day period. By including as many school children as possible, the program is able to reach across the community’s diverse population and share the learning experience citywide.
During the event, students, parents and school staff witness live demonstrations of Ventura firefighters performing multiple tasks associated with a career in firefighting and paramedicine. Students travel in groups around the training site and learn about engine company operations, fire safety education, ladder and power tool demonstrations, and a grand finale involving the fire department’s hook and ladder truck.
Additionally, the program requires staffing coordination because city firefighters serve as instructors in each of the event’s learning stations. Students, parent chaperones, and school faculty get to meet their local firefighters and gain knowledge about public safety workers in the community.
Firefighters demonstrate the tasks they are responsible for performing during emergencies, while emphasizing the importance of education and its relevance to their job. Students learn how firefighters operate fire engines, pumps, and hoses that require on-the-spot mathematical calculations using equations they have learned in school. Fire instructors explain how an education in chemistry is an essential element of becoming a member of the Hazardous Materials Team. Children learn about the severities of the Urban Search & Rescue Team, requiring knowledge in construction, geometry and physics. One of the most essential lessons they learn during the event is the importance of exit drills in the home as well as how to properly use a fire extinguisher.
Following the event, schools participate in an essay-writing contest among the attendees, with the winning school receiving the Fire Hydrant Award. Teachers submit the top essays from each of their fourth grade classes, a fire department review committee narrows submissions down to 20 and the fire chief selects the winner. The winning school’s name is inscribed on a perpetual plaque on the front of the trophy, which then lives at the winning school until the following year’s winner is chosen.
The winning school hosts an assembly, where the Ventura fire chief announces the student essay and presents the trophy, which is then read by the student to the entire assembly of classmates, parents, teachers, administrators, firefighters and media.