It’s time for Safety Town

Cole Fanaroff, 5, of Orange Village escapes a simulated fire during Safety Town at the Pepper Pike Learning Center last week. The Chagrin Valley Fire Department brought their safety trailer to teach children entering kindergarten and first grade about fire safety. The safety trailer uses a smoke detector sound and a fog machine to simulate a fire.

Children concluded a fun-filled week at Safety Town on Friday with a visit from the Chagrin Valley Fire Department. Safety Town is a 30-year-old rite of passage for students starting kindergarten in the Orange City School District.

The activity resumed this year after a pause in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

About 140 children participated in Safety Town Aug. 2-6, which was held at the Pepper Pike Learning Center. This camp is a collaboration between Orange Community Education and Recreation, the Pepper Pike police and fire departments, the Orange Schools Transportation Department, the Orange Pool, the Chagrin Valley Fire Department, Red Cross certified lifeguards, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and National Guard of the Chagrin Falls station.

“We appreciate the community support,” Safety Town Coordinator Betsy Ploenzke said. “We have a lot of volunteers, which is tremendous.”

The Chagrin Valley Fire Department brought the week to a close with the safety trailer. This trailer is designed like a house on the inside, including a living room, kitchen and upstairs bedroom. Children entered the trailer in small groups and visited each room. Firefighters Vanessa Zelle and Danny Patno taught the kids to avoid touching a hot oven and keep flammable items away from the heat, such as an oven mitt.

The trailer fills with fog and a smoke detector goes off, giving the firefighters an opportunity to teach the children about fire safety. They learned to check the temperature of a door to decide if it is a safe way to exit. They also learned to find a towel to wave outside the window to show they are in the building and need help.

“They’re a mix of nervous and excited,” Ms. Zelle said of the children’s experience in the safety trailer. “We tell them it’s pretend but it’s OK to be scared because it’s serious and dangerous.”

“But it smells like maple syrup,” Mr. Patno added, noting the children’s amusement with the fog machine.

Each day had a different theme with important lessons planned for the children, Ms. Ploenzke said. The week kicked off with pedestrian safety, animal safety, and reviewing each child’s address and phone number. Some kids were proud to recite their street address from memory.

On Aug. 3, the children learned about poison safety and bus safety. They participated in a bus safety lesson with a bus driver from the Orange schools. Children also learned about public transportation with an RTA bus driver, Ms. Ploenzke said. Some kids participated in the KidWatch program, which creates ID cards for parents to use if their child is lost. The ID includes a recent picture, the child’s thumbprint, height, weight, eye color and more.

The children learned pool safety in the zero-depth area of the pool at Orange High School. Last Thursday, they visited the Pepper Pike Police Department and Fire Department to learn about police, fire and playground safety. Children learned about bicycle safety and gun safety on Friday. Ms. Ploenzke said members of the National Guard taught children about their uniform and equipment. They also explained their jobs and taught the children that they are deployed to protect the public.

Goldie Valent, 4, of Moreland Hills attended Safety Town last week. She will start kindergarten this fall and wanted to complete the same summer tradition that both of her older brothers did. Molly Valent, 38, said that her sons were nervous around people in uniforms before Safety Town. These lessons, however, showed them that people in uniforms, such as police officers, firefighters and members of the National Guard, are there to help.

“It’s a right of passage that Goldie has been looking forward to,” Ms. Valent said. “She’s just learning a lot of life skills for when she’s going to school. She’s practicing learning her address and phone number. These are important things for us. She will remember them for the rest of her life.”

Dave Valent, 38, said that Safety Town has helped Goldie in interactions with law enforcement and civil servants.

“I think it’s been a great opportunity for Goldie to have a lot of fun and become more comfortable interacting with our great police and fire departments,” he said.

School Resource Officer Todd Bennett of the Pepper Pike police assisted with the camp. Officers from Gates Mills, Moreland Hills, Orange Village, Pepper Pike and Woodmere also contributed to Safety Town, Ms. Ploenzke said.

“It’s been a great week,” Mr. Bennett said of Safety Town. “The kids are having a good time and we’re covering a lot of important skills.”

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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