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Helping local school children understand the dangers that fire can pose is the primary goal of firefighters as they embark on Fire Prevention Week, set to run today through Friday.

Many Putnam County fire departments, including Greencastle, Cloverdale and VanBibber, have planned outreach activities this week.

Greencastle Fire Prevention Officer Bob Campbell told the BannerGraphic that teaching children about fire safety has proven it can even be a matter of life and death.

"The way we see it, it's vital that we reach the kids at an early age," he said, recalling a couple of times children involved in house fires have said they remembered firefighters coming to their schools and teaching them about fire safety.

"We've seen how this training can actually save their lives."

On the docket this week are visits to elementary schools where children in kindergarten through fifth grade will learn, through a 30-minute program, what they should and shouldn't do when it comes to fires.

This year's theme is "Cooking with Safety."

But the kids aren't the only ones who need reminding.

Tips for parents include turning the handles on pots inward so little hands can't grab them off the stovetop and making sure children are clear when opening a hot oven.

For the kids, Campbell said they will be taught techniques of Stop, Drop and Roll and will be shown the dangers of playing with lighters or matches.

Also, younger kids will be treated the a visit from Sparky the Fire Pup who will reinforce many of the tips provided by the firefighters. Sparky is always a hit with the kids.

In all, nearly 1,000 students in the Greencastle system will take part in this week's training, Campbell said.

"Eyes are wide open," he said. "They're always really attentive."

After a time in the classroom, students will have a chance to go outside for an up close and personal look at a fire truck, all with the idea of getting kids comfortable with firefighters and helping them see the importance of fire safety.

Firefighters are scheduled to be at Deer Meadow today, Tzouanakis on Tuesday and Thursday and Ridpath on Wednesday.

For Tzouankis students only, the smokehouse will be available for tours.

The mobile unit simulates a house fire and teaches children how to escape a smoke-filled room in a safe manner.

For obvious safety reasons, firefighters don't use actual smoke in the smokehouse.

Campbell said firefighter try to emphasize the importance of cooking safety a little stronger with kids in third through fifth grade since they are at the age where they are starting to experiment in the kitchen.

Local fire agencies have participated in national Fire Prevention Week for a number of years, and every year is as important as the one before.

"By letting them know the do's and don'ts, they really take it to heart," Campbell said.

Several websites offer information on Fire Prevention Week and general fire safety. Firefighters recommend going to the National Fire Prevention Association website at www.nfpa.org.

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