October 23, 2000
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
Fifteen preschoolers sit cross-legged on a green carpet with their hands in their laps and their eyes lit up. The children are in awe of a real-live, honest-to-goodness firefighter who has come to the Woodinville Sunshine Preschool to visit them. The firefighter is David Leggett, Public Education Officer for the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District. But to these three-year-olds, he is Firefighter Dave.
Reading to the children from "The Great Big Fire Engine Book," Firefighter Dave stops and asks a color association question. "What color is a fire engine?" The children agree that a fire engine is red and one child announces, "I like red!" This comment causes an eruption of discussion on color preferences and one child declares, "I like yellow!" After a lively discussion of colors, the children immediately turn their attention back to the story. "Crank, crank up go the ladders ...." Firefighter Dave reads to his rapt audience.Leggett may appear to be just entertaining preschool children with a storybook, but actually, it is part of his fire education program. "I basically educate pre-K to senior groups," he says.
On an average, he spends three days a week out in the community in some capacity teaching fire prevention, bike safety and in the case of seniors, how to prevent falls. The Fire Dept., Leggett says, prefers to deal with emergencies before they occur.
"It's the positive side of this job," he adds. And for Leggett, his job has many positive sides. He teaches high school teens about the dangers of drinking and driving through re-enactments of DUI car accidents, complete with crushed cars and teen actors portraying injuries and fatalities. Leggett also works with teens who want to learn the profession of firefighting, and he says that 90 percent go on to become firefighters. Another facet of his job involves looking for ways to reduce injuries. For example, he may discover that grab bars on a school's playground equipment are too large for a child's hands.
"Our focus is to look up previous injuries and develop programs to prevent them from occurring in the future," he explains.
Setting up programs to help children who set fires is another part of his job. As a fire-setter interventionist, Leggett meets and works with children who have a propensity for fire-setting and refers them to a counseling service that deals with that particular type of behavior. Add to this Leggett's work with the Fire Explorer Scouts and his comprehensive CERT classes where he teaches all-hazard preparedness and Leggett's schedule is full. Although National Fire Prevention Week was commemorated the second week of October, Leggett says, "Fire prevention is every day."
But, back to the pre-school. After reading the story, Leggett explains to the children what it would be like if he had to go into a burning building. He asks the children to practice coughing and they all happily oblige in a chorus of coughs.
He tells them that coughing is what they would be doing if they were in a smoky room. He then puts on the outfit all firemen wear when fighting fires. He pulls big pants with the suspenders up over his clothes. He steps into big black boots. He puts on the fireman's jacket and then straps on the air tank.
"I carry good air on my back," he tells them while showing them how he uses the air for breathing in a smoke-filled room.
The preschool room is surrounded with fun things to brighten a child's imagination, including blue Play-Doh, plastic blocks, and lots of books such as "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Clifford's Halloween."
But none of this is on the minds of the young children today. They can only focus on Firefighter Dave in his fireman suit wearing a Darth Vader-like mask which emits loud whoosh-whoosh sounds. The children are fascinated.
Then, if this weren't enough excitement, they are treated to a trip outside where each child is given their very own red firefighter hat which they all proudly place on their heads. Now that they have the proper attire, they get to sit in the big red fire engine that Firefighter Dave drove to their preschool. They even get to squirt water from the fire hose which sprays out in a long snake-like waterfall.
Back inside, Firefighter Dave tells the children what they need to do in case they are ever in a situation where their clothes have caught on fire. "Stop! Drop! And roll!" he says. Young Cody volunteers to show his classmates how to do it. Then the entire class practices. "I like rolling!" remarks one child.
"You are a super group of listeners," Firefighter Dave says. He asks the children if they have questions, spends time listening to their comments, passes out coloring books about 911 and discusses Dalmatians.
The fire dogs, he tells them, are the only kind of dog that got along with horses back in the pre-fire-engine days when horse-pulled wagons were used.
Soon, the time comes for Firefighter Dave to say good-bye. But before he leaves, every child insists on giving him a good-bye hug.
And as David Leggett drives out of the driveway heading back to the firehouse, there are fifteen young faces at the window watching his great big fire engine drive away.