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Family safety, family fun

June 15, 2018 GMT

La PORTE — Families stop, dropped and rolled into Crichfield Elementary School on Saturday where young children learned fire safety tips in a fun, engaging way – taught by none other than Sparky the Robotic Dog.

“That really gets a lot of attention,” said Center Township Fire Chief Marc Christiano of Sparky’s effectiveness at engaging with children. “It gets the attention of the kids to participate.”

Presented by the Center Township Volunteer Fire Department and General Insurance Services, Family Safety Day proved to be both educational and enjoyable for families who didn’t mind a few brief rain showers adding a bit of water to the festivities.

After all, adding a little water never hurts – unless we’re talking about grease fires, of course.

During an indoor fire safety presentation, Christiano was joined by Sparky, a talking dog who drives around in a miniature fire truck and is controlled by a firefighter out of view. The fire chief and fire canine taught children important lessons such as knowing the various ways on contacting 911 for help, the importance of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, learning your home’s address in case you need to call for help along with all sorts of useful information for children to know, such as having a designated emergency meet up spot outside a home.

“When we pull up to the scene, we want to make sure everyone is out of the house. Having a safe meeting place is very important,” Christiano said.

Center Township Firefighter Jake Ott suited up in full coat, mask and helmet and introduced himself to the children. While he might look a little scary with his mask and breathing tank on, Sparky assured the kids these firefighters are nothing to be afraid of and are simply protecting themselves from fire and smoke so they can help children and their families escape from fires.

Center Township Firefighter Austin Epple demonstrated how to stop, drop and roll – with Sparky making sure the firefighter covered his face to protect his eyes, mouth and nose. After Epple rolled around on the mat, several children took turns stop, dropping and rolling – sometimes right into one another.

“We’ll never know if we can save someone’s life (through outreach),” Christiano said. “That one life we can save by educating young people is very important.”

Family Safety Day allowed children to get hands on with several firefighting tools including children getting a turn at using a thermal imaging camera – which they happily pointed at their parents and siblings to reveal their white, thermal silhouettes – and getting to take their turn at using a fire extinguisher.

The La Porte County Sheriff’s Department performed K9 demonstrations outside, when the weather allowed, and car seat installation checks were available for parents to take advantage of. Children were also able to explore the Center Township Fire Trucks and grab some popcorn and a hot dog outside.

“They seem like they’re really interested in looking at the trucks,” Christiano said.

Inside, General Insurance Services helped families make their very own first aid kits while the Red Cross signed up people for free smoke detector installations and the Lindsey O’Brien Kesling Wishing Tree Foundation gave away free carbon monoxide alarms.

The Wishing Tree Foundation stressed the importance of being on guard against carbon monoxide to parents, as the dangerous gas is a silent killer and claimed the life of Lindsey O’Brien Kesling in 2010.

“We’re trying to make sure no one deals with this situation and everyone is safe,” said Karen Ellison of LOK Wishing Tree Foundation.

The Red Cross said their free smoke detector signups include the installation of three smoke detectors per home, with each smoke detector rated to last 10 years.

These free installations can be applied for by contacting the Merrillville office of the Red Cross or by going to their website, redcross.org.

The Center Township Volunteer Fire Department will return to Crichfield Elementary School, along with the ever popular Sparky, in October for Fire Prevention Week.