Firefighters read to children at the library

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OCEAN CITY — Looking to put a friendly face on what could be a frightening ordeal in an emergency, a group of Ocean City firefighters visited the local library last week to read a story book during children’s hour and talk about how firefighters help protect the community.

“I’m firefighter Ray and I brought all these big handsome firefighters with me,” said Ray Clark, vice president of FMBA Local 27, during the Feb. 10 visit.

Accompanying him were Capt. Jim Smith and firefighters Vito DeMarco, Sean Murphy, TJ Caine and Kevin Muller.

Smith read the illustrated book “Firefighter Frank” by Monica Wellington, chronicling the busy day in the fire house for a fictional fireman. Ocean City firefighters said Frank’s day pretty much mirrored theirs as they never know what kind of emergency might come up next.

The firefighters performed a hands-on demonstration of “stop, drop and roll” and showed the children how to get down low and crawl out of a building if smoke gets very thick.

Parents were given a homework assignment to review “100 Things to Make Your Home Safer” with their children, from a warning to check smoke alarms to holding a family fire drill to best prepare for an emergency.

Clark brought a host of tools with him, including heavy-duty protective gear utilized in a fire: a hat, face mask and boots.

“It’s sort of like Halloween,” he said, where you put a costume on.

Clark was so well disguised that his own daughters, 3-year-old Faelyn and 1-year-old Lyla, wanted nothing to do with him.

While some children were a tad frightened, others were fascinated. Clark infused humor to put some of the distressed at ease.

“I hope my feet don’t smell,” he said, as he removed his shoes.

Some still needed a little reassurance.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “This is not a real fire.”

Things lightened up quite a bit when they were asked to participate; they giggled and laughed as they performed “stop, drop and roll” with ease and felt quite confident when it came time to crawl around the room.

Firefighters visit local schools each year during Fire Prevention Week in October, but by visiting the library, they reach a younger audience, beginning the exposure to fire safety even sooner.

“I come here with my wife Sara and my daughters two or three times a week,” Clark said. “They have great programs for us, so it’s nice to be able to help them out, too.”

“Miss Mary” – Mary Shanahan – and “Miss Leslie” – Leslie Clark, the library’s assistant and director of Children’s programming, asked if the firefighters would like to appear as guest readers, he said.

“We talked about some different ideas,” he said, adding that he worked with acting Fire Chief Charlie Bowman to formulate a program geared at young children.

“Rather than just read a book, we figured we’d try to reinforce some fire safety. Fire Safety is important every week, not just during Fire Prevention Week.

“Fire does not take a break and neither do we,” he said. “We think about fire every day, year-round.”

To better spread their safety message, firefighters are turning to social media. They created a Facebook page, Ocean City Firefighters FMBA Local 27, and hope to reach 500 hits.

“We want to get the message out there, check your smoke detector, your carbon dioxide detector, develop an escape plan,” he said.

At least one of the spectators asked to try the big, heavy firefighting outfit on: Miss Mary couldn’t resist. Clark assisted her with the suit, a total of 65 pounds with the gear and air pack.

“It’s so heavy!” she said.

Children were delighted to see the sweet, kind library assistant dressed up as a firefighter.

“I’ve always wondered what it would be like to wear all that, I figured this was my chance,” she said.

“I love it,” Shanahan added. “I just love being here. The kids are so much fun. The firefighters are so nice and helpful, so personable. The children loved it, too. It’s nice to have guests come and visit and read a book. We had lots of fun today.”

Smith said firefighters hope to meet every child in Ocean City somehow.

“It’s nice to have a friendly face should we ever have to see them in an emergency,” he said. “I think it’s great. There’s not a lot of kids that we don’t see at some point. Most of them know us.

“I don’t think we can reinforce the safety message too much,” he said. “In an emergency, you want this to be second nature, to remember what to do. The more familiar you are with the message the better.

“In this day and age, the firehouse is the safe place to go,” he said. “Parents should tell their kids, if they’re in trouble, if there is an emergency, go to the firehouse. We want them to feel comfortable with us.

“It’s really nice to see all these children here,” Smith said. “We want to be a part of the community we live in.”

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