When Donnie Pfeiffer asks a group of students outside Green Springs Elementary in Olathe if they practice fire drills at school, the response is unanimous.
“Yes,” Krystal Hickel’s second-graders say together.
“Do you practice fire drills at home?” Pfeiffer asks.
“No!” they shout back at him as if he’s joking with them.
The public education specialist goes on to explain that every family needs an escape plan and a designated meeting place.
They’re standing next to a mobile home called E.D.I.T.H. — Exit Drills In The Home — a life-sized educational demonstration tool for kids. Within the home is a kitchen strewn with hazards like a butcher block on its side full of knives, paper towels on the stove, and prescription bottles in easy reach of children.
Firefighter Michael Berndt, one of the founders of the program, tells the class that the kitchen is a home’s most dangerous room. It’s where 38 percent of fires start.
Pfeiffer and a team of off-duty firefighters from Olathe’s fire department drilled the children on kitchen safety. Topics included not leaving flammables near the stovetop, always knowing two ways out of a room, and ensuring a home’s smoke detectors are working.
The children take turns spotting the hazards, then move into the living room,where they encounter a plastic gas can on top of a television, among other no-nos.
The Olathe fire department has given fire safety courses at Olathe schools for at least 20 years, but E.D.I.T.H. has only been around for 15.
Until three years ago, Pfeiffer was a firefighter. A 25-year veteran of the department, he decided to go into education full time because “nobody calls 911 when they’re having a good day.”
Pfeiffer and a team of firefighters have visited 36 Olathe elementary schools, including private schools, each year for 15 years. He says they’ve helped educate around 2,200 kids.
“It serves a lot of purposes,” he says. “One, it let’s them know we’re not scary people.”
He also says they tell kids to look for someone in a uniform, be it a police officer or a firefighter.
“The school district has really bought into it, which is awesome; it’s a great partnership.”
The program begins in second grade with the demo and moves to a more intensive program in third grade, which many teachers grade as part of their curriculum. The team visits the middle schools to educate older kids about cooking-specific hazards.
In the high schools they team up with the police and EMTs to discuss driving while distracted.
The most exciting — and to some children frightening — feature of E.D.I.T.H. is the escape from the smoky bedroom.
A smoke detector sounds from the rear of the trailer in the Scooby-Doo-themed bedroom. The room fills with theatrical smoke and the kids exit through a window and down a ladder, one by one.
They remark that their eyes are stinging as they hurry to the designated meeting place.
Pfeiffer’s waits for them at the bottom of the ladder, reminding them to stay calm, move slowly, and “stay down low where the good air is.”