After four years of research, writing and pilot testing, the Early Childhood Fire Protection Program will debut this fall in prekindergarten and kindergarten classrooms in Stillwater schools.

The program recently received funding from the FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety Grant in April and targets children 3 to 5 years old, an age group that is especially at risk for fire deaths and burn injuries, project coordinator Kimberly Simmons Coates said.

This program is the first of its kind, research coordinator Cindy Finkle said. Finkle, of Oklahoma State University’s Fire Protection Publications, said this program is developmentally appropriate and will allow teachers to integrate fire safety into their daily teaching.

Forty-six classrooms and more than 800 children will take part in the program that provides every child’s family with a smoke alarm and safety tips for their own home.

Finkle said she is hopeful that, after what researchers learn from the implementation of the project in Stillwater, it will be easily available to anyone and be an ongoing program.

“Young children and older adults are at such a high risk that we are somehow looking for ways to integrate this into their everyday learning,” Finkle said. “It’s something they will actually learn when they are young, then they will become more fire-safe adults.”

Teacher training for the program is set for Aug. 10-11. The first day of the program is Sept. 11 and will start at Will Rogers and Westwood Elementary schools, then move to other classrooms every three weeks.

The program, developed by the OSU Center for Early Childhood Teaching and Learning as well as Fire Protection Publications, was tested in the Tulsa and Sand Springs school districts.

The grant was written by Nancy Trench, assistant director of Fire Protection Publications, and includes funding for the actual fire safety activities for 15 days, teacher’s training and stipends and an instructional kit that includes books, a fire station, firefighters and trucks and child-size firefighter gear.

Trench, along with Finkle, has worked nearly 30 years in fire safety education and the program “is a dream come true for her,” Finkle said.

The kits will remain at the schools to be used in years to come, said Linda Sherran, assistant professor of early childhood education at OSU.

There also will be firefighters from the Stillwater Fire Department visiting each classroom, as well as field trips to the fire station, all paid for by the grant.

Simmons Coates, as well as project assistant Jamie Johnson, will monitor progress throughout the year to ensure the students are learning correctly.

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