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Katonah-Lewisboro’s elementary schools each hosted their local fire department for Fire Prevention Week, which spanned October 8 through 14.
The purpose of the programs was to ensure that children knew what to do in case of a fire. The visits also conveyed the strong vein of volunteerism that extends from generation to generation in Katonah-Lewisboro and the deep community ties that the hamlets hold.
Eight members of the Goldens Bridge Fire Department visited Increase Miller Elementary. Six of them had attended the elementary school, ranging from Captain Joseph Simoncini, Sr., who was a student when the school opened in 1962, to firefighter Doug Orlowitz, a 2016 graduate of John Jay High School.
Classes rotated through the program in the front of the school where the red fire truck and tanker were parked. The firefighters spoke to students about fire safety and showed them the Halligan bar, iron, and pike pole, as well as parts of the fire truck.
“What should you do if you wake up and your house is on fire?” asked Chief Al Melillo.
“Get out of the house!” the children answered.
“Yes. You should have a place to meet your parents outside of your house,” said Chief Melillo. “It could be the mailbox or a neighbor’s house. When you get home, review this with your parents.”
Two members of the Katonah Fire Department visited Katonah Elementary School (KES)—Captain John Whalen and Sergeant Scott Whalen. Both had been students at KES. “Some of our members are the 3rd and 4th generation Katonah,” said Sergeant Whalen.
Children clapped and cheered as Katonah Fire Department’s two trucks pulled into Katonah Elementary School’s driveway with lights flashing. They watched, wide-eyed, as the ladder truck’s four outriggers extended to stabilize the truck and the ladder rose, reaching KES’ roof.
“If we go into a fire we have to protect ourselves,” said Sergeant Whalen.
Captain Whalen put on the firefighter’s gear, starting from the bottom. First, he stepped into leather boots with steel toes and shank, and pulled up the pants attached to the boots. Then he put on a hood to protect his ears and face, and a jacket and gloves. Next, he hoisted the air tank onto his back, and put on his helmet.
Sergeant Whalen knelt down in front of the children and gave each one a high-five.
“If you see someone dressed like this in your house, don’t be afraid. Don’t hide,” he said. “Now you know it’s a firefighter.”
Two members of the Vista Fire Department visited Meadow Pond Elementary (MPES)—District Manager Thomas Ritchey, a member of one of the first classes to graduate from MPES, and firefighter Dominick Mangone. They offered age-appropriate programs for all grades. Kindergarters learned what to do if their clothing caught fire—stop, drop, and roll—while fourth graders practiced using fire extinguishers and fifth graders crawled through an actual smoke room on their hands and knees.
“A smoke detector is like a nose on the ceiling. It smells the air all day and night,” said Mr. Ritchey to a class of kindergarteners. “What should you do if a smoke detector alarm goes off?”
“Crawl on your hands and knees,” answered the students.
“If you’re in a public space, look for an exit sign,” said Ritchey. “They always lead to safety, never to a closet.”
“If your house is on fire, get out,” he continued. “MPES is easy. We are on the ground floor. You can always go out a window. If you are on the second floor, don’t jump. Open the window and yell. Wave a shirt, a towel, or a pillowcase. We assign a firefighter to look at all the windows of a burning building.”
“ Once you are out, stay out,” Ritchey said. “Look for your pets after the fire is out. We have rescued cats, dogs, and gerbils; we even saved a snake once.”