It’s a hot summer day when Stettler and District Volunteer Fire Department lieutenant Steven Notman kneels on the asphalt in full gear, all so children under four years of age can get a close look and poke and prod at him.
It’s one of many activities undertaken by the fire department, which serves both the Town and County of Stettler, to help children face what could be a scary sight before the circumstances themselves are scary.
It’s important “to get them comfortable,” Notman said later. “When they see us coming it puts the fear of God into them, and they run away from us instead of to us.”
In a fire situation, where smoke inhalation has already deprived the brain of its ability to think at its best, a child unaware of what a firefighter looks like in his full gear can be terrified by the alien-looking sight.
Deputy Fire Chief Etienne Brugman described Notman’s gear to the children, showing what each piece does and why he wears it. He has Notman remove his face mask, letting each brave child put their face up to it and feel the oxygen coming through. Later, when Notman puts the mask back on, they can hear the sounds he makes while breathing in and out.
Notman said that it’s important to start teaching children very early about what to do in case of a fire. By the time kids reach Grade 3 or 4, they know to phone 911 in an emergency, but it’s important to drill that information in right from the start.
As part of the adventures at the Stettler fire hall, the children got to tour a fire truck and see the ladder truck raise its ladder and bucket high into the sky. They practiced escape plans and heading to a safe spot, like they would in a fire.
During the year, the fire department works with local schools to make these presentations, all with the goal of helping kids not be afraid. That way, if something scary is happening and the fire department has to help, the sight of a firefighter, covered head-to-toe in their gear and with their alien-like face-mask on, is a sight that reassures rather than frightens.