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Covington FIre Department's fire safety house is open for business

:Ross shows how the bedroom at the fire safety house is filled with artificial smoke to show youngsters what it would feel like to be awakened in the middle of the night with a house fire.

:Ross shows how the bedroom at the fire safety house is filled with artificial smoke to show youngsters what it would feel like to be awakened in the middle of the night with a house fire.

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Covington Fire Department's Fire Safety Educator Randy Ross demonstrates how a simulated kitchen fire can be extinguished by use of an electronically coordinated fire extinguisher in the fire safety house's kitchen. The state-of-the-art facility is located on Ivy Street. - Staff photos by Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

COVINGTON --It's been a long time coming, but the Covington Fire Department's F.I.R.E.(Fire, Instruction, Resource, Education) Place stands ready to welcome young and old to learn about fire safety and related subjects.

Located at 2157 Ivy St., between Emory and Monticello Streets in the heart of Covington, the facility is being used as part of the department's educational outreach, offering hands-on, state-of-the-art instruction.

The idea came from a brainstorming session back in 2004 and thanks to many local businesses, civic organizations and grants from national companies and organizations, it is finally a reality. A large grant from Allstate Insurance kicked the program off and the house that was once vacant, dilapidated and an eyesore to the community has been completely refurbished to provide the stationary facility where school age children can experience what it would be like to be trapped in a burning, smoke-filled bedroom or where senior citizens can actually take a fire extinguisher and put out a blazing stove.

"We made the decision to create the house rather than use a trailer where everything is condensed and the child has to imagine they're in such a position. In this situation, we were able to create an actual bedroom and an actual kitchen. They don't have to imagine they are in a bedroom. They are in a bedroom," explained CFD Capt. Tony Smith. "We wanted a community-based project and a life-size house where everything was true to life and the true size ... . something that would give them more of a true-life experience."

Simulated smoke and fire are used and there is no risk to the students, although it appears so realistic some young students are a bit apprehensive.

"If we have kids that are scared and don't want to go into the smoke, we have CCTV monitors in the room and that can be piped to a large screen and they can see everything that's happening that room live," Smith said. "Even if they don't do it themselves, they can see it."

The kitchen has such special effects as a trash can that catches on fire, a burning stove and cabinets that seem to blaze.

"It's all done electronically," Smith said. "There's no actual flame, but we also have fire extinguishers that coincide with the equipment that actually gives the person the experience of putting the fire out. Somehow electronically they go together and the (simulated) fire will only go out if it is put out properly."

Also, the house demonstrates the added safety residential homes can have by the use of a sprinkler system which experts say would cost about the same as installing carpeting and the safety benefits are priceless.

Smith said the location for the house was selected based on where it would have the largest impact.

"We looked at our call volume and what area of town had the highest call volume," he said. "This area of town was found to be a high risk area."

He said he's hopeful that eventually word will get out that the house is open and youngsters will feel free to stop by and watch a video or play games.

"We'd like to have some interactive games that will be educational, but at the same time it gets them off the streets, somewhere where it's cool and they can actually interact and find out this is a good place to hang out.

Smith said the addition last fall of Fire Safety Educator Randy Ross to the staff has already paid off. The department has been without a fire safety educator for 10-plus years and over that time, they've seen fire calls involving children increase.

"Now that Randy is here, 1,800 kids just since October have been contacted. We've not run any specific numbers, but it appears we're not receiving any kid-initiated calls. Awareness and education go miles when it comes to decreasing the number of calls," he said. "The only thing that's changed is we've got an educator in place."

Ross is working on a new program for those in middle school and high school and said it will use an I-clicker, a classroom response system which will allow students to be more interactive with the instructor, while at the same time provide the instructor with feedback on the program's effectiveness.

"You can't teach a middle schooler to Stop-Drop-And Roll and they've already seen the fire truck from pre-K up through fifth grade," Ross said. "We've taught them to crawl under the smokes, but now we've got to get above and beyond those methods."

Ross is on duty at the F.I.R.E. Place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for times when he is out teaching classes or on other assignments. He would welcome a visit or for more information, call 678-712-9387 or 770-385-2100.