Beginning in 1996, the State Fire Marshal’s office began purchasing specially-designed trailers to supplement the efforts of local fire safety education. Over the next several years, at least two trailers were distributed free-of-charge each year, until every county in the Commonwealth received one.
We began using the Hampshire County SAFE trailer when it arrived in 1999. It was at this point that we altered the program from a 3-week format to one of 4 weeks. The importance of the SAFE trailer cannot be overemphasized. It offered our curriculum a “hands-on” way to reinforce the messages of SAFE in two vital ways:
First, we are able set up the trailer with a variety of realistic life safety hazards that you might actually find around the home, such as matches left out “accidentally” where small hands might find them, waste paper too close to a fireplace, and damaged electrical cords. These are just the kind of hazards we covered in our second classroom lesson. Within the trailer, the students practice identifying safety problems and offer solutions to correct the problems.
Secondly, the trailer is designed up to pipe a kind of non-toxic theatrical mist into various rooms. This substance is used extensively in the fire service to simulate smoke conditions. Because of this capability, the students can truly “practice” a home escape. This experience is probably the single most important part of the program: it demonstrates to the students that they can take action in an emergency (without ever being in actual “danger.”)
At no time in the SAFE program do we ever try to frighten a child about fire. Frightened children don’t escape from home fires. Rather, our entire emphasis is on the steps necessary to safely escape a home fire. This trailer provides the students with a safe and very effective environment in which to practice those steps.
The SAFE trailer continues to be the single most effective lesson (and most anxiously anticipated) in our program.
In 2004, following a period of intense fundraising [spearheaded by firefighters John Ingram and Bill Klaus], we were able to purchase a trailer of our own. Although it was a standard recreational vehicle, we set about turning it into a SAFE trailer.
Some of the modifications included:
- Roof repairs and upgrades
- A false fireplace was added
- Four new stabilizers purchased and modified
- New flooring in all rooms
- Bedroom modified to accommodate students
- Escape ladder added to exterior of trailer
- Exterior phone system added to allow students to practice simulated emergency call to 911
- Bathroom converted into a control room
- Smoke machine piped from control room to living room and bedroom
- Heated door added between living room and bedroom
- Camera system added to monitor activity in all rooms
- Exterior TV monitor allows for view interior activity from the outside
- Kitchen area re-model and new exterior awning (2006)
Upkeep and maintenance of the trailer continues to require a great deal of time and money. Donations for this purpose are always gladly accepted.
“What’s that smoke made out of…?”
We are quite often asked about the theatrical mist that is used within the trailer to simulate smoke. It is generated by heating and then rapidly cooling a fluid with specialized properties to produce a mist.
The material is called “Maxi Fog” fluid and is produced by Le Maitre Special Effects, Inc. of London, Ontario, Canada. It is a water-based, non-flammable substance with no known toxic qualities. This material has widespread use throughout the United States and the world in theatrical productions, movies, and industrial training, (as well as in firefighting training!) to name just a few applications. It is made specifically for the smoke-generating machine in our trailer. The fluid has a saccharine-base, has a sweet odor/taste to it and is therefore sometimes referred to as “candy” smoke.
While the material itself is not dangerous to inhale, parents of students who have respiratory problems which can be triggered by unusual environmental conditions should be advised.
NOTE: after having had literally thousands of children pass through the trailer, we have NEVER had a single student with asthma or any other respiratory condition affected by exposure to this material. However, parents have the final word as to whether their child can participate during simulated escape scenarios and therefore must sign a permission slip prior to the fourth lesson.
If you have any additional questions regarding this substance or about the home escape planning module of the program, you can contact John Ingram via e-mail. You may also download the following document: