Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Hometown Heroes

Fire safety shows make lesson fun

By Janet C. Wetzel
Enquirer contributor

        Children often learn to stop, drop and roll during annual Fire Prevention Week activities, but at least two firefighters think youngsters may need reminding more often than once a year.

        In 1999, Brandon Tully, 28, a full-time firefighter/paramedic at West Chester Township Fire Department, came up with a plan for a monthly fire prevention program. He and his cousin Michael Smith, a part-time firefighter/EMT at Fairfield and West Chester Township, launched “Movies in the Park” and present it once a month May through October in Keehner Park.

        In 2001, Mr. Smith, 30, started a similar program in Fairfield. That program's season just ended. West Chester's last event this year is Oct. 18.

        “Kids hear about fire safety once a year, but if they don't practice it, they don't remember it,” said Mr. Tully, of Lebanon. “Repetition helps them remember. What they learn here could save their lives, and they have fun. It's wonderful seeing the big crowds, the smiling faces.”

        Mr. Smith, of Mariemont, said he likes knowing his efforts make a positive community impact.

        “That's also why I'm a firefighter, to make a difference,” Mr. Smith said. “If these programs help just one person, it's all worth it.”

        The two firefighters began in West Chester with a simple plan 1/2ndash 3/4 invite the public for a community event each month, show a fire prevention film, followed by a family movie.

        But what's a movie without popcorn and soft drinks? McDonald's donates some soft drinks and the department's Fire Association pays for the other refreshments, said Mr. Tully, association president.

        The program, approved by West Chester Township Fire Chief Jim Detherage, caught on quickly.

        “It took right off after we got it advertised,” said Mr. Smith, who designed a poster to display.

        After seeing the impact in West Chester, Mr. Smith got approval from Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett and the parks department to start the program in the new Village Green Amphitheater. Mr. Tully and Mr. Smith run the West Chester program. Capt. Jim Howell helps Mr. Smith with the Fairfield event, and Mr. Tully helps when he can.

        Other firefighters at each department volunteer help with setup and passing out refreshments, they said.

        Each event draws 250 to 500 people, said Mr. Tully, who was a volunteer youth soccer coach four years in the mid-1990s.

        “The community really enjoys this,” said Chief Detherage. “These men should be honored. This is an important service.”

        Mr. Smith, who won the City of Fairfield Star Employee of the Year award in 2001, expanded the program. Now he includes such things as the Smokehouse to teach children to escape from a smoke-filled house and fire truck displays.

        Fifth Third Bank provided funding this year. Mr. Smith is looking for funding for next year.

        Chief Bennett said he's impressed with the longevity of the program, especially since it's all- volunteer. The Fairfield public is greatly appreciative of the growing program, he said.

        “Ideas are easy. Those people who keep them going and continue to motivate others, that's the hard part,” Chief Bennett said.

        City Council was so impressed that members suggested and the department agreed to have the event twice monthly three of the six months next year, he said.

        Do you know a Hometown Hero - someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live and helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at jjwetzel@siscom.net or fax (513) 755-4150.


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