The Student Awareness of Fire Education program began in 1996 as an initiative by Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan to promote the development of local fire education and fire prevention programs. Using funding provided back to states by the federal government (originally raised through a tobacco tax), the Marshal’s office devised a grant program to distribute the money to every fire department in the Commonwealth that completed the application process.
Amherst and Pelham began offering a SAFE program that very first year; Leverett and Shutesbury joined with us in 1999. In the beginning, the program consisted of five career Amherst firefighters who volunteered to put the program together. Today, we have 14 Amherst firefighters who act as SAFE instructors and additional personnel from all four community fire departments who help to deliver the program each year.
When the program was first proposed, we met with the Elementary Curriculum Director for the Amherst public schools to discuss where fire safety instruction might fit within the existing curriculum. We determined that fire education was a part of the health curriculum at the fourth grade level. With the support of the Superintendent’s office, we set about developing a program curriculum specifically geared to students of that age.
Our program is designed not only to offer up-to-date fire safety education but also to offer general safety education as well. We not only provide classroom lessons but also ask the students to conduct several take-home assignments. We further emphasize “hands-on” experience through our use of the SAFE trailer. Students identify safety hazards within the trailer and then practice “escaping” from a simulated smoke situation.
Our program has been recognized across the Commonwealth for its uniqueness of design and application.
In 1999, Captain Tim Goodhind (formerly Masloski), our Program Coordinator at the time, was recognized as Firefighter of the Year for Outstanding Community Service with an award from Governor Paul Cellucci for his work with SAFE. Tim also received a citation from the State Fire Marshal’s office during the 2000 Fire and Life Safety Public Education Conference. Firefighters John Ingram and Bill Klaus received similar citations in 2003 for their work raising over $12,000 to purchase the SAFE trailer.
The State Fire Marshal’s office of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (DFS) continues to encourage and to support local fire departments to develop and to deliver fire education designed with their own community needs in mind. You can find out more about the DFS SAFE initiative by visiting the DFS Website.