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Firefighters shake up studies

April 26, 2005

Michael Miller

Fourth-grader Daniel Cabrera can't remember much about his first time

in an earthquake, but he'll be ready when the next one hits.

"Once, when my family was going to go camping, there was an

earthquake, and I slept through it," said Cabrera, 10, during Youth Ready to Respond day at California Elementary School. "When I woke

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up, there were cups and plates on the floor."

After sitting through an earthquake simulation presented by the

Costa Mesa Fire Dept., though, Cabrera knew the drill: "Go under

something that's safe, like a table or your bed. Roll over and cover

your neck so nothing can hit it if it falls."

Last Tuesday, California Elementary was one of 10 schools in the

country participating in the Youth Ready to Respond project,

sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation. The first-year pilot

program offers schools $50,000 over two years to teach safety-related

protocols to students -- from anti-terrorist measures to bullying

prevention.

California Elementary used the grant money to teach fire and

earthquake safety to 141 fourth- and fifth-graders.

"They're definitely at an age where their decision-making skills

are able to affect others and themselves," said fourth-grade teacher

Tiana Fox. "These kids are home a lot in the afternoon."

To prepare for those urgent moments, students at California

Elementary learned the protocols for dealing with in-home fires and

earthquakes -- what to touch, what to avoid and, most importantly,

how to escape. Firefighters set up a trailer on the school field with

two tiny rooms inside -- a bedroom and a kitchen -- and led students

through the steps in real time.

In the fire simulation, the trailer emitted fake smoke through its

wall vents and sounded an alarm for students, who escaped out the

back door and window. For the earthquake, lights flashed on and off

while the windows shook, all through electronic programming. The

daylong event also featured an actual fire demonstration on the lawn,

as firefighters started a blaze in a pan and put it out with an

extinguisher.

Students had begun a safety unit in class the week before the

demonstration, reading material about fire and earthquakes from the

Red Cross. After Youth Ready to Respond Day, principal Kelli Smith

said, participants would tour the school halls and make a "hazard

checklist" of potential dangers at the school, which they would then

present to the PTA.

California Elementary students may just be learning safety

procedures, but based on the simulations, Costa Mesa fire protection

specialist Cheryl Wills gave them good marks.

"I was afraid they were going to get scared," she said, "but they

didn't at all."

* IN THE CLASSROOM is a weekly feature in which Daily Pilot

education writer Michael Miller visits a campus in the Newport-Mesa

area and writes about his experience.

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