MANVEL, N.D. -- Tatiana Coleman, a third-grader at Manvel Public School, had the opportunity to operate a fire extinguisher for the first time on Friday, Sept. 11, under the watchful eye of Neil Nowatzki, chief of the Manvel Volunteer Fire Department.
“It was easy,” Tatiana said.
“It was easy for me, too," said Monte Yost, a classmate in Carley Dub’s class. “My grandpa is a firefighter in Minnesota -- in Mahnomen."
Nowatzki and several other volunteers in the fire department were on hand to teach lessons on fire safety to the school’s K-8 students.
By grade level, the kids gathered on the school’s grounds where they listened to the firefighters explain the P-A-S-S acronym -- Pull pin, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep -- as a reminder of how to use the extinguisher, then demonstrate its proper use.
About 100 children, in grades 3-8, received hands-on instruction. Students in grades K-2, one grade at a time, were seated in a single line on the ground and watched.
With a firefighter alongside, each child took turns going through the steps of using the extinguisher and putting out a small, propane-fueled fire contained in a metal pan on the ground.
With each group, especially after the first child successfully extinguished the flames and the smoke billowed up, the audience of kids responded with “oohs,” cheers and applause.
“It’s always fun to see them (do this),” said Eric Slade, a volunteer with the fire department. “For most, it’s their first time spraying a fire.”
It was also the first time the Manvel Volunteer Fire Department has offered this hands-on training for students at the Manvel School, said Fire Chief Neil Nowatzki. With a grant from Otter Tail Power Company and other donations, the department purchased 120 extinguishers to distribute at no cost to families with children who attend the school
“The kids are very excited to have this training. It’s a great safety protocol that kids will be able to use. It’s something they will take with them for their lifetime and, hopefully, will never forget," said Melissa Hiltner, school principal.
Hiltner said some Manvel School families cannot afford fire extinguishers, “so it’s nice for families to have this in the home -- and it’s good that the kids can teach their parents.”
As Hiltner assembled the children for the fire-training lesson, she encouraged them to listen closely to Nowatzki as he described the use of the extinguisher.
“This is not a toy,” she said.
Slade also cautioned: “You could hurt yourself. You need to aim at the bottom of the fire, not the top.”
As he spoke to the attentive students, Nowatzki said: “If you guys see a fire, what’s the first thing you do? Tell an adult, call 911 -- even if it’s a small fire, it can become a big one.”
“There’s always been a feeling in public schools that safety and fire prevention are a big deal. It’s important for the school to try to promote safety and family safety. It’s a positive piece of what schools can do," Superintendent Dave Wheeler said.
This may be even more necessary in rural areas, according to Wheeler, who took over as superintendent July 1 after serving as elementary school principal for the Thompson (N.D.) Public School District.
“In rural areas, oftentimes, families don’t live in the community (where the school is located),” said Wheeler, noting that, in Thompson, 85% of the families worked in Grand Forks. “There’s an opportunity for kids to be home alone -- during the summer and the school year.
"Anytime you can teach something practical like this," Wheeler said. "It's good for students and their families."