Emergencies can rattle us, especially as kids. The Napa Fire Department hopes events like its annual open house make those emergencies a little less scary.
Hundreds of kids, grown-ups and pets gathered Saturday at the downtown Napa fire station for the annual Fire and Life Safety Open House. The event gave members of the public the chance to step inside the firehouse and learn more about how firefighters, paramedics and emergency dispatchers do their jobs.
Seminary Street from First to Second streets was shut down so that guests had room to complete an obstacle course, and climb inside a fire truck, police car and ambulance. Kids posed for photos with Sparky, the fire dalmatian on wheels. Anyone who visited all the stops at the open house was given a coupon for a free Yo Belle frozen yogurt.
At one end of Seminary, kids climbed inside a trailer filled with fake smoke and learned how to escape during a structure fire. Napa firefighter/paramedic Hattie Borg taught a growing crowd of children standing outside the trailer the importance of having a family meeting spot.
Kids need to know what to do if they hear a fire alarm or smell smoke, she said. Knowing their home address and how to call 911 is also key.
A line formed nearby as families prepared to tour the dispatch center. Napa Fire Division Chief Zach Curren led visitors upstairs through the Napa Police Department and into the room where dispatchers field 911 calls from the public and assign resources to those calls. Along the way, guests stopped to admire the wall of law enforcement patches from offices throughout the state.
“911 is a number that’s very special,” he said.
Curren explained that it’s a number that you should only call during serious emergencies — not, for example, if your dog eats your homework.
He led guests into the dimly let dispatch center, decorated for Halloween with cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and ghosts projected on the ceiling. Kids crowded around a dispatcher’s desk as she took a call. Another pulled up a map of the City of Napa and showed her visitors as police and fire cars drove in real time.
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Shortly after noon, a crowd gathered to watch as firefighters used the jaws of life, and tore off the doors and roof of a car that had been abandoned and donated by a tow company.
The open house allows fire officials to show the public where they live and what they do, said Fire Capt. Ty Becerra. Kids are especially inquisitive.
“It’s fascinating for the youth to understand that,” he said.
It’s the first year that the open house included a kids’ version of an obstacle course similar to what aspiring firefighters must complete prior to being hired, Becerra said. Kids practiced carrying a hose, spraying a hose and dragging a giant stuffed bear dressed in a firefighter’s costume.
While the focus was on the fire service, the open house is an opportunity for other local partners to share information with the community, Becerra said.
The California Highway Patrol handed out free bicycle helmets. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company educated the public on how to sign up for alerts. Representatives from Napa County signed people up for Nixle cell phone alerts.
Lara Hall, who came with her 3-year-old child and grandson, said it’s great for kids to be exposed to emergency officials and realize they’re not so scary.
Plus, she said, her son and grandson are “really interested in fire trucks.”
Santiago Rico said such an event is especially important in Napa, where residents can be exposed to earthquakes, fires and floods.
Rico, who came with his wife and three young kids, said his kids were scared by last week’s earthquake and the open house was especially important, in light of the recent quake.
“It’s good to know what we can do in case of emergency,” he said.