PILOT MOUNTAIN — Members of the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department brought several fire trucks as well as the Stokes County Fire and Rescue Association Child Safety House Wednesday to Westfield Elementary School for fire safety instruction.
A group of five firefighters participated in the annual event for kindergarten through second-graders at the school.
“They retain a lot of what they learn here from us,” said Westfield Fire Department Assistant Chief Greg Inman. “Right now the biggest thing for them is the trucks, but they learn from us and take it home to their parents.”
Inman said the group was visiting the school as a natural extension of National Fire Prevention Week in the hopes of making it a month-long activity to benefit children and their families.
“One of the challenges for us is you have to make it fun even though it is scary,” added Inman. The firefighters taught a total of seven classes at Westfield. Activities included students watching a video explaining fire safety and training in escaping from a smoke-filled room. The mobile classroom also is able to simulate smoke so children can practice staying down low and crawling out the window to escape.
The department also supplied informational fliers, pencils, stickers and plastic fire helmets for students.
“At this age what they learn here is long lasting. They never forget it,” said Inman. He said many firefighters locally are beginning to worry about fall fire season. Inman explained unless more rain falls in the area, it could become so dry the chances for brush fires will increase.
According to Inman, another possible situation local firefighters are keeping an eye on is the decreasing numbers of volunteer firefighters locally.
“When I started with the Surry County Firefighters Association in 1999, there were 700 members. Now there are 550 in the association,” said Surry County Fire Marshal Doug Jones. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we are not down 150 over the past 20 years.”
Jones said he has no definitive answers on the decrease. He said his conclusions are just his own opinion because no county-wide survey has been done.
“Personally, I feel like it’s the economy,” said Inman. “Many people that were working one job are now working at least two jobs and many of these are out of the county.”
He also said that many firefighters have aged out during the last 20 years and were not replaced, which has added to the shortage of volunteers.
“I also get the feeling that volunteerism is down,” said Jones. “It’s not just fire departments, it’s all the agencies in Surry County. People are spending more time just trying to feed their family.”
Jones said grants are available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fire departments recruit and retain volunteers so the problem must be state- and nationwide in scope.
“I suppose there is also the possibility that this is a cultural change involved with this,” said Jones. “I just don’t have a solution.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.