Performers emphasize safety around electricity

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Most youngsters know that matches start fires, but they might not be as familiar with the potential for electricity to do the same.

Fourth- and fifth-graders at Whitehall Elementary School learned all about how to prevent electrical fires during a program presented Thursday by a pair of performers from the National Theatre for Children.

Designed to be entertaining and informative, “The Safety Detectives in Hot Pursuit” is a half-hour show chock full of tips on staying safe in an increasingly electricity-driven world. The theater group’s Derek Brookens and Sarah Philabaum have been on the road since mid-January to perform at 60 schools in six metropolitan areas on behalf of the Electrical Safety Foundation International.

“Everybody loves this show,” said Ms. Philabaum, from Frederick, Md., following the second of two heartily received Whitehall performances. She portrays an investigator in a fictitious town, trying to solve the mystery: “Somebody is creating dangerous electrical situations.”

That somebody turns out to be a character called the Firefly, with Mr. Brookens making his entrance in an appropriately sinister costume, channeling the late Jim Morrison by singing: “Come on, baby, light my fires!”

“This is a really good audience,” Mr. Brookens, a Port Allegheny resident, said about the Whitehall students and staff members. As far as the overall reception for the shows, “We’ve had good luck in Pittsburgh so far.”

The performances, which include stops at nine Pittsburgh-area schools, emphasize four areas of electrical safety:

• What is electricity?

• The uses of electricity

• How to identify dangerous electrical situations

• How to prevent electrical fires

“It’s not something that’s typically taught in schools,” said Don Brucker, Allegheny County chief deputy fire marshal, who attended the Whitehall performances.

He expressed enthusiasm about the Electrical Safety Foundation International’s efforts to promote awareness among children, noting that they’re likely to take the message to heart and then take it home.

“The more you do, the more education you get out there, the less risk you take,” he said. “In our office and even at the county executive level, we support this whole program.”

To pay for the program, the Arlington, Va.-based EFSI used money from an $835,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We get great feedback because it’s hands-on,” said Brett Brenner, EFSI president.

Whitehall fourth-grader Liam Boyd had the opportunity to get up in front of his classmates with a sign that illustrates the program’s main message:

“Open your eyes; be safety wise.”

For more information: www.esfi.org.


Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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