Fire Station Open Houses Offer Family Fun

Charlie McFadden, with help from a Sandy Spring firefighter, sprays a fire hose at last year's open house, part of National Fire Prevention Week.
Charlie McFadden, with help from a Sandy Spring firefighter, sprays a fire hose at last year's open house, part of National Fire Prevention Week. (By Jessica Mcfadden -- For The Washington Post)
By Jessica McFadden
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 2, 2009

Where can kids climb on firetrucks, don authentic-looking firefighter hats and even "put out" pretend fires using a real fire hose? On weekends during October, the answer may well be your neighborhood fire station.

Sunday through Oct. 10 is National Fire Prevention Week (, when fire and rescue officials remind us all to test our smoke alarms, prepare our family escape plans and teach our kids about stop, drop and roll.

In some neighborhoods all that safety information is cloaked in kid-friendly fun at fire station open houses. It's more like fire prevention month -- and it's more fun than it may sound. The activities vary from station to station. Handouts such as plastic fireman hats, hot dogs and popcorn, hugs from such costumed characters as Sparky the Fire Dog or Terry the Traumasaurus and a jump in a moon bounce are all common features at the open houses.

Thousands of attendees flock to the annual events at the Ashburn Fire and Rescue station and the Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department, two of the largest and most carnivalesque open houses in the region. Both feature helicopter landings and the opportunity for kids use the fire hose. There are also fire safety smoke houses for kids to crawl through while firefighters teach the children how to "escape." Ashburn will also have firetruck rides, and Sandy Spring will have puppet shows about a careless fire-breathing dragon.

What every fire station open house will have are emergency vehicles for kids to investigate up close and firefighters to meet and learn from. "The crew and I really like meeting the people of the community, conveying emergency info that's empowering to them," said Capt. Curtis Stillwell of Arlington Fire Station 1. "When people say they've never seen a firetruck up close before, we always tell them, 'These are your firetrucks -- you paid for them!' "

In Arlington, all 10 of the county firehouses are open Oct. 10, and the station crews compete in a friendly contest to provide the best activities and displays for the community. Various Fairfax County stations are also holding concurrent open houses. Other fire and rescue locations hold events in tandem with popular fall festivals to reach large numbers of people with important fire safety messages.

"These events are the cheapest, most fun and yet most educational events of fall. If you're a kid or an adult, if you own or rent, drive or walk -- there's demonstrations and giveaways to help you stay safe," says Capt. Johnie Roth, president of the Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department. "It sure is great to meet the people of the community at events like open houses, instead of meeting them on the worst days of their lives."

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