The Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department is promoting a fire-prevention campaign next week that aims to help families develop and practice home escape plans.

During National Fire Prevention Week, which is scheduled for Oct. 3-9, county fire and rescue officials hope to spread their message about "The Great Escape," focusing on teaching children about the importance of fire safety plans. The department also hopes residents will participate in a home fire drill scheduled to take place across the country on Oct. 6.

The department plans to kick off its new survival skills curriculum for elementary school students next week, going first to Dale City Elementary School to teach a three-hour fire safety course that requires each student to prepare an evacuation plan for their family. Steve Strawderman, a department spokesman, said the course will be taught at all of the county's 43 elementary schools throughout the year.

"Teaching the kids really makes a difference," Strawderman said. "We see the effects of the classes when children call 911 or assist in escape efforts. They become our advocates for fire prevention and fire safety in the home. We send them home on a mission."

Strawderman said fire and rescue officials also will concentrate on ensuring that families check the safety of their heating systems. He said the department sees a rash of fires each winter that are started by faulty heating systems, space heaters and wood stoves that are not properly maintained. He said families should keep clothing and electrical components away from such heating elements, pointing to a house fire in Prince William last Christmas that killed six people after a pile of clothes placed near a water heater ignited.

Fire and rescue officials also are making a point to remind residents to replace the batteries in their smoke detectors in October, when clocks are changed. Strawderman said residents who cannot afford smoke detectors can contact their local fire stations or call 792-6380 to have the department install them at no charge.