A milestone is approaching for the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department.
On April 26, the department will conduct its 10,000th fire and life safety education session for local students, something it has been doing for the past 27 years.
"I was looking at our numbers from last year and kind of thinking, if we've been doing this since 1986 ... we're kind of close to 10,000," said Mike Stohner, fire department lieutenant who has been in charge of the program for the past five years. After examining the files on his database -- and the old-fashioned paper records, too -- he arrived at the figure.
The program is conducted at Mt. Lebanon School District's seven elementary schools, at three private schools and at a few local preschools. It is organized by specific lesson plans for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
"Mt. Lebanon firefighters are part of our school community," said district superintendent Timothy Steinhauer. "As a result of our partnership, students are educated about fire safety practices that will benefit them at home as well as in school."
Kindergartners, for example, learn the basics, including which types of fire are harmful and which types are helpful. They also are taught the "stop, drop and roll" safety technique.
In first grade, lessons focus on topics such as how to cool a burn, how to report an address to emergency dispatchers and the importance of staying low to aid breathing during a fire.
Students eventually receive more complex information, culminating in the final session at the end of fifth grade. A review of the past five years, the final session includes a game show-type of activity called Fire Feud, with students earning Kennywood Park passes, T-shirts, gift cards and the like.
"We put a lot of money into the prizes because the kids put so much work into the program," Mr. Stohner said.
The 10,000th milestone session will be held at Markham Elementary School for fourth-graders and will include a visit by the department's portable fire safety house. Students will go inside to review what they've learned so far this year.
"As we're talking, a smoke detector sounds," Mr. Stohner said. Then a smoke machine goes into action, as students put their lessons into effect, evacuating the trailer and making sure everyone is accounted for and safe.
A former Mt. Lebanon student, Mr. Stohner remembers taking part in fire and life safety education, especially a session involving Deputy Chief Kevin Maehling when the program involved higher grade levels.
"He came to our class in middle school and actually set a pan on fire and showed us how to put it out with a lid," Mr. Stohner recalled.
In some cases, the lessons have paid off in real-life situations. Recently, a 10-year-old student at St. Bernard's Catholic School who had gone through the program helped himself and his mother to safety during an early-morning fire.
"We really think it's the most important thing we do," Mr. Stohner said about the program. "We'd much rather see people before something starts and teach them to be safe."
Harry Funk, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.