Harrison TownshipMay 09, 2013
Harrison firefighters’ program offers students life-saving skills
By Julie Snyder
C & G Staff Writer
Harrison Township firefighter Matthew Sahr reads to students at Yacks Elementary School March 25 for March is Reading Month.
HARRISON TOWNSHIP — The Harrison Township Fire Department isn’t your typical department.
Sure, they battle blazes in and around the community and respond to medical emergencies, but they go above and beyond in making sure residents are safe. They also teach.
Through the department’s Public Education Program, members of Local Firefighters Union 1737 work to keep local students hip to the skills needed in the event of a fire, a medical emergency or a water rescue.
Firefighter and Public Education Director Bob Mlynarek said the program was launched more than 10 years ago after the local Goodfellows chapter disbanded.
“There were a lot of kids who were helped by the Goodfellows, and after they folded, there was no one to help,” said Mlynarek, who has been with Harrison Fire for 15 years. “That’s when we stepped in and took over programs like the Giving Tree program (during Christmas).”
The community was hit again when the township’s Parks and Recreation Department lost funding and later split. It later turned into a volunteer-based program that is still active, but on a limited basis.
Mlynarek said that over the past 7-8 years, the fire department has taken over former Parks and Recreation programs like the Easter Egg Hunt, the annual Pancake Breakfast in late September — that program supports the Giving Tree — and Doughnuts with Santa in December, an event that officially kicks off the Christmas program.
Through Giving Tree, the fire department receives names from local schools of families in need. The names of the young children in those families are written on tags and placed on two Giving Trees (one at Fire Station One on Crocker and one at Fire Station Two on Jefferson). Each tag bears a child’s name, age and one “want” and one “need.” Residents are then invited to pick a tag and purchase gifts for that child. Leftover names are taken by the fire personnel who then make purchases, themselves. The wrapped gifts are delivered or picked up by the families in the days leading up to the holiday.
“But our fire department has always been involved, always very progressive in getting in the schools and teaching students CPR in the spring and fire safety in the fall,” Mlynarek said.
During Fire Safety Month in October, the department visits the township’s elementary schools in L’Anse Creuse Public Schools for in-depth and specialized fire safety training.
During these sessions, the students learn how to draw out an escape plan at their home and lead family fire drills. They also learn how to react in the event of a fire, and then tour the fire engines and meet with Sparky the fire dog.
In March, firefighters are invited guests at the local K-5 classrooms as guest readers in recognition of March is Reading Month, and water safety and CPR training begins in April and continues through the end of the school year.
Mlynarek said Wales Tales is an American Red Cross-certified training program aimed at elementary-age students.
“It’s a perfect program for students in Harrison Township because we are so close to the river and the lake, and we have so many canals,” he said, adding that Wales Tales has been provided to students for approximately 30 years. “We teach the students about the importance of life jackets, why it’s so important to swim with a ‘buddy,’ and we teach them about water currents. They learn things that they can take home and share with their families. On a whole, the program helps the entire community.”
Fire Chief Mike Lopez said a key part of the fire department’s mission is public education and keeping the community safe.
“When I came on board in 2008, they introduced to me what they had been doing and I was very impressed with what they had in place,” he said. “This is something most communities don’t offer. These programs get kids involved in fire safety and safety in general in fun ways.”
The CPR training takes place at L’Anse Creuse High School. During CPR training, which is provided at the middle school upon request, students also receive Heimlich maneuver training and they learn how to properly identify symptoms of a stroke.
But there’s still more.
The Harrison Township Fire Department also hosts fundraisers to help their neighbors. Specifically, five years ago, the department learned that neither of the two Macomb County Sheriff vehicles that patrol the township was equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AED) machine.
“We held a fundraiser and raised the money to buy them. Now the patrol vehicles have an AED,” Mlynarek said proudly.
There is also the annual summer golf outing fundraiser, which subsidizes the programs throughout the year — those small things like candy and eggs for the massive egg hunt now held at the high school.
The department, comprising 27 firefighters/paramedics, also provides an ambulance at no charge during home high school football games and conduct regular blood pressure checks at the Tucker Senior Center and at the adjacent senior living complex on Crocker.
“A couple of years ago, one of the younger students who had just had fire safety training saved his family when a fire started in their home,” Mlynarek said. “Using the skills he learned, he got his family out of the house. That was kind of neat and pretty rewarding for us.”