Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

January 23, 2014

Fire safety programs teaches students to ‘H.U.G. A Firefighter’

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Being a victim of a fire can be a traumatic experience at any age, but one local group is focusing on teaching young children to “H.U.G. A Firefighter” to help increase their chances of surviving a fire.

The concept for the program – an acronym for “Hurry Up and Grab a Firefighter” – arose nearly three years ago when a Troup daycare contacted firefighters about giving a fire safety presentation, recalled North Cherokee Volunteer Firefighter Jeanna Farmer.

“When we put the program together, (husband and fellow firefighter) Ricky decided he wanted to do something more hands-on with the kids, and decided that it was what he wanted to do: Put together an organization that would give this kind of presentation,” she said.

Since last May, the group has visited a number of sites, and hopes their program catches on nationwide.

“We would like to implement H.U.G. A FIREFIGHTER in all schools, day cares, childrens' clubs, churches and fire departments nationwide who could help educate children across the nation,” its website states, pointing out that in n 2011, fire departments responded to 384,000 home fires across the nation, which claimed the lives of approximately 3,500 residents and injured 18,300.

According to www.hugafirefighterllc.org,  fire injuries are highest in the 4 years old and younger age group, decline in the middle years, but rise again in the 10 to 14 age group.

Fire fatalities among children “are so high because they panic,” Jeanna said. “That panic factor (tells them to) get in a closet or under a bed, hiding in the bathroom when we can't get to them in time. That's what we're trying to dispel. We can't stress that enough."

Farmer said younger students get more hands-on presentations, actually having them practice hugging firefighers.

On Wednesday, the Farmers, their sons – also volunteer firefighters with NCVFD – and members of the local fire department presented the program at Nichols Intermediate in Jacksonville.

As she spoke with grade-schoolers, Jeanna reminded them that smaller children act on instinct in times of danger.

“If you've got little brothers or sisters, they're scared of us … they will hide under the bed, in the closet, in the bathtub or hamper (because) it's a place of security,” she said. “The first thing we do is we do not hide.”

Another important thing to remember is to account for everyone when a firefighter assesses the situation, she said.

“It's important when we ask you, 'Is there anyone in the house,' that you answer” so that rescue crews can account for all people, she said.

Jacksonville Fire Captain Ted Hunt, who later led a question-and-answer session with students, said programs like H.U.G. A Firefighter make a huge impact on the work firefighters do with the public.

“We're doing a different program than what they're doing – they focus on rescue part, while we're focusing on fire prevention, escape routes, emergency plans, so this just kind of reinforces what we teach,” Hunt said. “That's why it's important to have and to practice a plan. Because in an emergency situation , you're going to do what you're trained, what youv'e been taught to do. But if you don't have a plan, and an emergency happens, you're going to be confused.”

While the program is geared at educating children, firefighters are part of the learning curve, too.

“We're learning as much as the kids are,” Jeanna said. “They are so very inquisitive to ask questions that we would not ever imagine that they would ask. Our goal is that if we can save one child at at time, then we've accomplished what we've set out to do.”

To learn more about H.U.G. A Firefighter LLC, visit the group's website, wwwhugafirefighterllc.org, or “H.U.G. A Firefighter LLC” on Facebook.

Or, contact coordinator and founder Ricky Farmer, 903-258-4256 or email hugafirefighterllc@gmail.com.