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Departments parade by Valley's schools

October 10, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

Sirens blaring and emergency vehicle lights flashing — those were the sounds and sights that greeted Booker T. Washington Elementary School students in El Centro as they filed out of classrooms Tuesday morning as part of their monthly fire drill routine.

As a kickoff to National Fire Prevention Week, fire departments throughout the Imperial Valley combined to stage a procession of fire trucks that paraded by every elementary school in the Valley by mid-morning.

The parade, known as the Awareness Run, starts off a week of fire-awareness programs in area schools. The week will culminate in the fifth annual Imperial Valley Public Safety Parade & Fair on Saturday.

"Good Morning Washington. This is Tina at El Centro fire and we're on our way to your school!"

With those words Tina Ledyard, permit coordinator for El Centro Fire Department, got the run off to a smooth start.

Riding with El Centro Fire Department Chief Charles Beard in his cruiser at the head of the procession, Ledyard called each school by cell phone a few minutes ahead of the procession's arrival. That was the signal for teachers to marshal students to designated safety zones away from school buildings.

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Watching the children calmly file from their classrooms, Beard made the observation that most if not all of the students had come to the Fire Department as part of school field trips.

"It's terribly important that we reach these children at a young age with our message about fire awareness" he said. "Many of the fires that break out in our community start with children playing with matches."

Washington students, proudly holding United States flags aloft, led classmates to the school's football field, where they watched the parade of fire trucks pass.

"As part of the fire drill, teachers ensure that designated students carry their classroom's copy of the emergency plan, the roll call book and Old Glory to safety with them," Beard added. "Immediately after the students are assembled on the field, their teacher will conduct a roll call as an added safety measure."

Washington first-graders were still chattering excitedly about the parade later that day. Six-year-old Rosie Garcia said she counted five fire trucks in the procession and Jesus Serrano, also 6, noted, "Once our teacher burnt herself on her leg and it hurt a lot. She taught us about fire safety."

Tony Hernandez, a 5-year-old first-grader reminded his classmates of the time they went on a field trip to the El Centro fire station when they were in kindergarten.

"I put on a fireman's coat and hat … and it was hot in there!" he said. "And it was funny because our teacher had to try on the coat, too."

National Fire Prevention Week has its roots in the Chicago fire of 1871. The popular legend of Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lamp and starting a fire that went on to burn 2,000 acres in 27 hours and kill some 300 people endures to this day.

Whatever the cause, Chicago residents quickly rebuilt their city and decided to celebrate the restoration of Chicago by memorializing the anniversary of the fire with parades and festivities.

Some 40 years after the Great Chicago Fire, the Fire Marshals Association of North America decided the event should not be observed with festivities but with programs to keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.

The Parade & Safety Fair on Saturday will be the final event for National Fire Prevention Week in the Imperial Valley.

Ledyard estimates there will be 61 entries in the parade and anticipates at least 1,000 Valley residents will march in the parade.

The parade kicks off at 10 a.m. from the corner of Eighth and State streets in El Centro and culminates in a safety fair at Bucklin Park, which is scheduled to run until 2 p.m.

Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442.

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