To Hagaman firefighter and certified fire safety educator Larry Dawson, the easiest blaze to stop is one that never started.
He and a few other firefighters have traveled to schools and fairs across five counties for years to give fire safety presentations, but starting in May 2013, they’ll be doing it with a lot more style, thanks to a $61,300 federal grant.
The grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Fire Prevention and Safety Grant program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will be used to purchase a new fire safety trailer.
“We feel very lucky,” Dawson said. “I’ll be able to instruct a lot more kids.”
The Hagaman Volunteer Fire Department already has a trailer used in safety demonstrations, but it has a few design flaws — mainly a lack of space.
It’s laid out on the inside like a very small house, complete with living room, kitchen and upstairs bedroom. It’s well outfitted with smoke simulators and the like, but the result is a cramped setup that works best only for children.
“You have to bend down to get into the living room,” he said. “A lot of parents see that and just send their kids in.”
The new, 35-foot trailer will still have a replica kitchen for grease and electrical fire demonstrations, but comes with plenty of bleacher-style seating and additional headroom.
The added space from nixing the second floor will make it both handicapped- and adult-accessible, which is good since sprightly preteens are not the only people who start fires.
“I’ll be able to pack 25 people in there,” he said.
Every year, roughly 2,000 kids go through the fire safety presentation. Dawson hopes to double that, saying every person his team can instruct means one less potential fire.
“It’s real life-saving stuff we’re doing here,” he said.
The fire department has applied for the grant the past four years. According to Dawson, it finally was approved this time in large part because U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, wrote to FEMA on the department’s behalf.
“Our first responders not only help us in times of need, they educate our communities on safety and prevention,” Tonko said in a statement. “I want to congratulate Hagaman on receiving this award. These are the sort of investments that are worth making — bettering our communities and improving our quality of life.”
The department had to match only 5 percent of the grant, which will allow it to purchase instructional materials along with the trailer.
As there isn’t a huge public demand for fire safety trailers, it will have to be built to order, which is expected to take the rest of the year. Dawson’s team will start using it at the beginning of their May-to-October tour season.
He hopes the new trailer will increase demand as well as capacity.
Schools and organizations can request a demonstration at www.hagamanfire.com.