Partnership between school district and Chandler Fire, Health & Medical Department produces safer classrooms, prepares students for emergencies
A successful collaboration between the Chandler Unified School District and the Chandler Fire, Health & Medical (CFHM) Department is making CUSD elementary schools safer by involving teachers and custodians in the safety inspection process and targeting first- and second-grade students for fire safety instruction.
The Partnership for LIFE program - LIFE stands for Learning In Firesafe Environments - was introduced into the elementary schools on a trial basis during the 2013-2014 school year. The program was offered to all CUSD elementary schools this past year, and initial assessment of the program shows widespread support by school staff and dramatic increases in fire safety test scores for students.
"Ninety-nine percent of the teachers surveyed said the safety of their students was increased due to the Partnership for LIFE program," said Chandler Fire Prevention Specialist Robin Miller. "We test the students on fire safety at the beginning of the year and again at the end, and the scores increased (on average) 55 percent for first graders and 40 percent for second graders. Additionally, every school passed the annual safety inspection. This is a worthwhile partnership between Chandler Fire, Health and Medical and Chandler Unified School District, and these test scores prove that."
To participate in Partnership for LIFE, administrators have to commit their schools to completing five program requirements. First, the school must allow CFHM staff to conduct two hours of classroom instruction for all first and second grade students. Second, teachers and custodians must conduct two self-inspections during the school year, preferably at the beginning of the year and during the mid-year holiday season. Third, the school must conduct two fire drills supervised by an on-duty CFHM crew. Fourth, at least 10 percent of a school's teaching staff must be certified in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) by the end of the school year. The fifth and final requirement is to pass an annual inspection conducted by the CFHM Fire Prevention staff. Schools that successfully complete all five requirements earn a Partnership for LIFE certification decal to display for their students, parents and visitors.
The first requirement, for classroom instruction, involves school visits by CFHM Fire Pals, a group of firefighters who are experienced and trained to educate students in fire safety. At the beginning of the school year the students take a pre-test on six fire safety topics, then the class receives a visit from a Fire Pal who teaches these topics, which are then reinforced by teachers throughout the year. Lessons include Home Escape, Crawl Low Under Smoke, When Clothes are on Fire, Smoke Alarms, Match and Lighter Safety, and the 911 System. After another Fire Pal visit in the spring, the lessons are repeated.
The students are given the same fire safety test at the end of the year and their scores are compared. For the 2014-15 school year, pre-test scores for first- and second-grade students were 61 and 69 percent, respectively. The post-lesson scores showed significant improvement, rising to 95 percent for first graders and 97 percent for second graders.
To determine which ages to target for these important safety messages, CFHM staff consulted with Dr. Carol Connor, a Professor of Psychology and a Senior Learning Scientist at the Learning Sciences Institute at Arizona State University. Dr. Connor's research focuses on children's learning in the classroom - from preschool through fifth grade - with particular focus on the "mental processes that enable children to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully," important skills to have in preparation for and during an emergency.
In addition to making these first- and second-grade students "fire safe" through educational materials, the next step is to make the classrooms and school facilities as safe as possible.
The remaining requirements of the Partnership for LIFE program involve the following: self-inspections to eliminate fire code violations; conducting regular fire drills (required by state law) and having CFHM crews review two of these fire drills during the school year to ensure the evacuation and staging plan would work in the event of a real emergency; training staff to perform CPR; and passing an annual inspection performed by CFHM personnel.
"Having teachers and custodians support our efforts is key to the entire program, because they can have a direct impact on preventing fire code violations," Miller said. "We give them checklists to perform self-inspections of their areas, and they can avoid the most common violations when setting up their classrooms at the beginning of the year." Another mid-year self-inspection helps minimize violations that may be caused by decorations that were added for the holidays. The final inspection of the year is conducted by CFHM fire inspectors.
In addition to the self-inspections, every school conducts fire drills, with at least two supervised by an on-duty CFHM crew. The Department also conducted 13 free CPR certification courses for nearly 130 CUSD personnel during the most recent school year.
In the final results, all Chandler Unified School District elementary schools completed the Partnership for L.I.F.E. program requirements for the 2014-2015 school year. Fire Pals visited all 29 schools, with more than 6,000 first- and second-grade students receiving the six basic fire safety lessons. All of the schools completed their first and second self-inspection sheets. More than 25,000 students and staff participated in supervised fire drills. At least 10 percent of staff at all of the schools are now certified in American Red Cross full CPR. And finally, 100 percent of the schools passed their annual fire safety inspection with flying colors.
"These results are truly inspiring, and I commend all of the Chandler Unified School District personnel who supported the Partnership for L.I.F.E. program," said CFHM Chief Jeff Clark. "I am extremely proud of the 120 members of our Fire, Health and Medical Department who worked on this program this past year. They have demonstrated their commitment to protecting the wellbeing of the children of Chandler, and the adults who care for them."
Chief Clark thanked CUSD Superintendent Dr. Camille Casteel and Associate Superintendent Frank Fletcher for their support. He also noted the significant contribution of Miller, who worked on the program for many months, conducting research, developing program content, and coordinating with the school district.
The Partnership for LIFE program was evaluated after the 2014-15 school year and improvements made based on survey feedback from teachers. With the 2015-16 school year starting, the partnership between CUSD and CFHM continues, 29 elementary schools are displaying their new decals proclaiming them to be Partnership for LIFE certified, and a new group of first- and second-graders will soon be introduced to their Fire Pals.
For more information about the Chandler Fire, Health & Medical Department and the Partnership for LIFE program, call 480-782-2120 or go online to www.chandleraz.gov/fire.
"The crews that supervised our fire drills have taken time to sit down with our administrative team and offer us
feedback in order to improve our fire drill protocol. These suggestions have improved the flow of information
during the drill by teaching us specific radio protocols to ensure that our communication is clear and effective.
Additionally, the crew taught our staff how to utilize an Incident Commander to lead radio communication and
provide information to various emergency crews who may be responding to our school in a true emergency.
Thank you, Chandler Fire, Health & Medical Department, for being our partners in safety education!"
Kimberly A. Kyle
Dean of Students, Fulton Elementary