I have a toddler that is obsessed with all things firefighting. She has been for over a year now. It’s serious. She has made her own fire extinguisher out of craft supplies, she watches combat competition videos on Youtube, she points out every hydrant, standpipe, valve, alarm, sign and fire truck that crosses her path. She maps out evacuation plans in every building we enter. And most importantly, we visit fire stations to talk to firefighters. Often.
Whether you call them fire stations, houses or halls (we call them stations where I come from), these buildings are EVERYWHERE. There are likely several in your community, and at least one within walking distance of your home. If you have a “Jr. Firefighter” like I do, a visit to your local fire station is inevitable. Go prepared.
Since we’ve now visited several dozen fire stations in multiple cities across North America, I’ve created a list of tips for parents and kids to get the most out of a visit to a fire station, whether it’s your first or twenty first visit.
BEFORE YOU GO:
Read books on firefighting to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary of firefighters. Knowing terms like what a fog nozzle and telescoping ladder are make it easier to point out items you see around the station and ask questions about them. We like the DK Books in the non-fiction area of the library like “Mighty Machines Fire Truck” and “A Day in the Life of a Firefighter.”
Make a thank you card for the firefighters. Going under the pretense of thanking the firefighters for their service to your community gives the trip more purpose and teaches your child about the value of civil service.
While fire stations are open 24/7 (for obvious reasons), they generally prefer hosting little visitors during daylight hours. Call ahead to the station you wish to visit to get a feel for when they would prefer you stop by.
THE DAY YOU GO:
Warn your child that if the firefighters get a call before you arrive or while you are there, they will have to leave the station and not be available to visit with you. Be flexible to visit later if you see there are no trucks in the bay.
Wear your favorite firefighting gear. My daughter has several fire truck shirts, a chief hat and various costume pieces she wears when she visits fire stations.
Plan to spend no more than 15 minutes in the station on any one visit. It’s a place of business, so they must stick to a schedule.
Prepare a list of 3 or 4 questions for YOUR CHILD to ask the firefighters so he/she can learn something new on each visit. Your child can also bring one of the library books to look at with the firefighters and ask any questions you have about what you see or read in the book. By having your child communicate directly with the firefighters builds public speaking confidence and a positive relationship with civil servants. My daughter has talked to dozens of firefighters and they have ALWAYS been incredibly awesome with her. The usually squat down to look at her in the eyes and she has gotten very comfortable talking with and learning from them.
QUESTIONS TO ASK AT YOUR LOCAL FIRE STATION:
- I live at XXX address. How long does it take for you to get to my house in the event of an emergency? (They usually have a map on the wall and can point at your house and the station and talk about the route they would take.)
- If I get hurt at home and need to call 9-1-1, should I specifically ask for fire response? (In some areas, the responders are equally trained and one has a faster response time than the other, so it’s important to request the faster service if seconds count in your emergency.)
- Does this station have an ambulance?
- If I got hurt and you needed to take me to a hospital in the ambulance, which hospital would you take me to?
- May I see the inside of the ambulance so I know what to expect if I ever have to ride in it?
- If you live in a high rise, you can ask if their truck ladders can reach your floor of the building. If they can’t, you can talk about the best evacuation plans based on the age of your building (different building codes determine where the safest places in the building are. Newer buildings have specially designed stairwells that keep fire out.)
- If you visit frequently, you can learn the names of the crew members (see my Final Tip below on how to address firefighters by name) so you can have more social follow-up conversations like learning where they went to fire school, what they do for exercise during off hours, etc.
- Where do you train? Is there public viewing of the training sessions? (some stations have public viewing of hose and ladder practice, but it’s likely on the outskirts of town where there is more space to make a mess.)
- What are your most common calls – fires, injuries, people getting stuck, etc?
- What are ways I can stay safe so I don’t need to call 9-1-1?
- If I DO need to call 9-1-1, what information should I have memorized (address, last name, etc.)
QUESTIONS TO ASK AT NEW FIRE STATIONS:
- May we have a tour of your station? (Some walk you through the kitchen and sleeping quarters, some have museum memorabilia in the lobby, most just show off the trucks and common areas but we’ve found that each station tour is different and unique.)
- May we see the inside of one of your trucks? (Most will let your child sit in the truck, some will turn on the sirens – either way, be prepared to take pictures)
- Do any female firefighters work at this station? (It’s good for kids, both girl and boy, to meet females who have worked hard to break into the male-dominated profession.)
- Does your fire station have a pole? (Ask gently if someone will demonstrate, but be prepared for a “no” since some find it annoying to use the pole).
- How old is this fire station? Do you have old pictures of the building? (Some have pics of when the trucks were pulled by horses which is cool).
- Any interesting facts about this particular fire station or crew?
- Do you have a fire dog/boat/helicopter at this station?
- What is the newest or coolest piece of equipment you have in this station?
- Do you give hose demonstrations? (Some firefighters will spray a hose at the truck or let your little one hold the hose… it depends on the location of the station and what the water restrictions are in your area.)
AFTER YOUR VISIT:
Ask if this fire station has any special events coming up. (Some host dinners or open houses for the public.)
Ask if there is anything you can do or bring on future visit to help them? (Some may appreciate snacks, etc.)
Courteously ask if they have any stickers. (Most stations offer stickers, temporary tattoos or hats to little visitors. At one station, my daughter got a cool t-shirt. Say lots of pleases and thank yous.)
As you leave the station, while everything is still fresh on the brain, talk to your child about things they saw that were new or interesting to direct future learning. For instance, at one station, my daughter was allowed to hold a fire hose and spray the parking lot. Afterwards, she wanted to learn more about the specific nozzle she operated so we went home and looked at Youtube videos demonstrating the nozzle and we even found one video of the factory MAKING the nozzle.
Respect that the fire station is a place of business and that while they welcome little visitors, they really can only take about 10 minutes to host you. If the bell rings and they have to take an emergency call, you must get out of the way immediately and let them take off on in the truck. The excitement of the call is usually enough to distract little ones from the fact that the tour got aborted, but mitigate melt-downs by explaining ahead of time that emergency calls take top priority.
Don’t harass your local station. If it were up to my toddler, we’d visit our neighborhood station (only a few blocks from our home) daily. We limit in-person visits to once every two weeks, and just wave at the station as we walk past in between visits. If any of the firefighters are out in the driveway as we walk past, we stop for a quick hello, but not for a full visit inside.
If your child wants to learn the names of the local firefighters, be sure to ask how they wish to be addressed. Office titles are hard to achieve, so should be respected. Address a Lieutenant or Chief as such unless they say otherwise.
Remember that firefighters are there to help you, so if you have any questions or concerns about personal or property safety, ask! They have great information that will reduce your likelihood of actually having an emergency. The goal is to get the info during friendly visits so you don’t ever have to call them in a crisis.