By Mickey Winfield: PNT staff writer
Portales public school students who pass through the first grade will know basic fire safety, and they’ll also be on a first name basis with many Portales firefighters, thanks to the Fire Buddy program.
The Fire Buddy program consists of Portales firefighters visiting Steiner Elementary School about once a month to read to the first-graders, as well as teach them basic fire safety. The firefighters also chat with the youngsters so that if there’s ever an emergency or a reason to visit the child’s home, they’re not afraid of the first responders.
Cynthia Cissell has been a first-grade teacher at Steiner for 18 years and has seen the program grow for the past several years.
Cissell said the program used to consist of the entire school attending an assembly, and now it has grown to the firefighters going into each of the classrooms.
“The kids love it,” Cissell said. “They look forward to it, they get really excited.”
Cissell also said the firefighters hand out books, pencils, erasers and many other goodies to the kids.
“They try to get to know them and see them so that when the kids see them, they know who they are so that they don’t get scared.”
Sharon Epps, principal at Steiner Elementary, is new to the school and the program, but sees its value.
“They come as often as they can,” Epps said. “They come in and check in at the office and then they get assigned a classroom and they just go in there and teach the kids fire safety.”
Mike Chaves is Portales’ firefighter-EMT who participates in the program.
“We do fire prevention and fire education,” Chaves said. “We want to make the kids aware of different hazards around the house and possible different escape routes and different dangers.”
Chaves has been at his current post for three years.
“The kids are a lot of fun,” Chaves said. “They seem to enjoy it, they respond, well and they seem to have a good time.”
“(This program) is very important,” Chaves said. “They know the basics like stop, drop and roll before we get there. We tell them what to do if they are trapped inside the house.”
The yearly event ends in May, when school ends, as the first-graders and firefighters have a water party at City Park.
“I don’t think there’s anything more valuable than actually hearing it from the source,” Cissell said. “They come in, they see the firefighters — they know who they are. They respect them and they actually listen to what they say.”