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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

NAFD Ablaze with News

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, October 06, 2005

North Adams firefighter and fire and safety educator David Simon
North Adams – Recent news surrounding the city fire department can be summed up with a popular phrase: it’s all good.

On Sept. 29, the state Department of Fire Services honored firefighter David Simon as the first runner-up for the 2005 “Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year” award. Simon received the recognition while attending a Massachusetts Fire and Life Safety Education conference in Boxboro, Mass..

Numerous fire and life safety educators from across the state are nominated yearly for the award, and the work of each nominee is reviewed by a panel of safety educators, who then vote to select a winner. Simon was named as a “top 20” educator of the year during 2004.

Speaking on Oct. 6, Simon expressed his happiness at being ranked among the top five safety educators statewide.

A Passion for Prevention

“It feels very nice that someone from Western Mass. was even considered,” he said. “Educators from across the state make the selection and they do not know me. The vote was based totally on the information about what I do, and that makes it even nicer. And you have to remember that everybody who does this does good work, and everybody does something different. To be in the top five and second in the vote….it really is special.”

City Fire Director Stephen Meranti nominated Simon for the award, and attended the awards luncheon.

“Dave has the passion,” Meranti said. “[Fire prevention and education] is very important to him. He wants to get the message out and he doesn’t like to rely on visual aids, like software and drawings; he likes to give live demonstrations and there isn’t a kid in the [city] schools who doesn’t know ‘Firefighter Dave.’ He makes us all look good.”

Simon leads the Student Awareness of Fire Education program, which is funded via a state Department of Public Safety grant. Since school began this year, Simon has already visited various classrooms and is in the midst of additional student safety education. His outreach has extended to neighboring communities; he was coordinator of a school-based “Prevent Home Hazards” poster contest earlier this year that involved students from the Clarksburg, Florida, and Adams schools.

When a Berkshire County Fire Chiefs Association-sponsored “Kids Safety House” makes an appearance in the city, Simon is among the firefighters staffing the mobile unit.

He is working to assemble a fire education and safety program for day care providers, Simon said, and noted young children are among those most at risk of fire injuries.

Simon and the safety unit visited the Brayton Elementary School on Oct. 6, and a student trip through the “house,” which simulates conditions in a smoke-filled bedroom, was a huge success, he said.

“Many of these kids have been through the house before, and they are getting educated and re-educated,” Simon said. “They did very well. They felt along the walls, they felt along the floor and they got themselves out. This is what we want, what we love to see.”

New Program Offers Home Education

Fire prevention and safety is extending beyond the schools and into the community through a Fire Education for Older Citizens program launching during next week’s nationally-designated Fire Prevention Week. A comprehensive public service announcement about the program scripted by Simon and directed by Peter Gentile, a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts instructor and a member of the Northern Berkshire Community Television group, is set to air beginning Oct. 8 on NBCTV public access Channel 15.

• The video may be viewed here

The program is focused on city residents aged 65 and over who live in apartments or private residences. Simon said that he is very pleased about the chance to meet with older people.

“I am so excited to have the opportunity to interact with the older citizens,” he said. “These are people who have always taken care of themselves and they’ve earned this opportunity. I can’t tell you how much it means to be able to do this. We’d love for folks to make an appointment with us so we can come on by.”

Tuesday appointments will be scheduled on a weekly basis between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Meranti said. Appointments may be arranged by calling the fire department at 413-664-4923.

The education initiative will include smoke detector checks and battery replacement, tips on cooking and smoking safety, instruction with the “stop, drop, and roll” technique, fire escape route planning for both home and public venues that includes plans for those with physical limitations, and proper use of space heaters.

Firefighters will make home visits and discuss fire safety strategies with people on an individual basis. Plans are being made to offer group safety sessions at sites such as the Ashland Street high-rise, the Holy Family apartment complex, and the St. Joseph’s Court building, Meranti said.

A one-year $19,950 Department of Homeland Security grant targeting fire prevention and education is funding the program, Meranti said. The city contributed matching funds of $1,995 as required by the federal agency. Grant funds were used to cover costs associated with creating the videotape and also paid for purchase of tools such as screwdrivers, stepladders, and other items being used in conjunction with the program. The S & A Supply company provided smoke detectors to the program at a reduced cost, Meranti said.

Home visits are expected to take about one hour, Meranti said.

“Our guys will go through a checklist and help people plan and draw out an escape route,” he said. “We’ll check for any home hazards, check the smoke detectors and change the batteries. We will document the steps taken and in six months, we’ll visit the home again to change smoke detector batteries.”

Community Involved

Simon and Meranti said that city Mayor John Barrett III is extremely supportive of the program. Barrett appears in the public service announcement and encourages people to take advantage of the education program.

“This public service announcement was such a community effort and to have the Mayor endorse this and be in the video is just over the top,” Simon said.

Gentile’s help was instrumental to the video, Simon said, and he noted that two residents of the St. Joseph’s Court allowed videotaping to occur in their homes and are also featured in the film. Simon’s mother- and father-in-law, Charlotte “Sarge” Sanders and Lloyd “Red” Saunders, “acted” and permitted filming in their home as well, he said.

“We really couldn’t have done the announcement like this without the help of the community, especially the people who are in the video,” he said. “These people let us come into their homes and let us video whatever we needed.”

New Training Room At Hands of Firefighters

City firefighters have been diligently working to convert a fire station rest room area into a firefighter training and education room, Meranti said. Many of the firefighters are skilled tradesmen and their talents are evident, he said.


This insignia was crafted by city firefighter Juan Bolte and installed within the floor of a new firefighter training room.
For example, firefighter Michael Goodson built wide, wood-crafted windowsills and is making a cherry wood table for the room. Firefighter Juan Bolte designed and installed a tile firefighter emblem in the floor at the room’s entrance. The training area is equipped with a power-point projector and screen, which will be used during trainings, Meranti said. Security cameras stationed in the room will monitor the firehouse when the room is in use. The room is equipped with a sink, a stove, and will host a refrigerator, Meranti said, and noted that materials were donated by local firms including S & A Supply, R.I. Baker, Inc., Greenberg’s, Potvin Lumber, and the LaValley Oil Co..

Oct. 9 Open House

The space will be open to visitors during an Oct. 9 fire department open house scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and conclude at 1 p.m.. Fire safety tips including planning home escape routes and learning to crawl “under” smoke will be a focus of the event, and free pizza, children’s coloring sheets and fire hats will be provided by the event sponsor, Papa Gino’s restaurant. The Dedham, Mass.-based pizza chain company has sponsored fire department open house events throughout New England for over 12 years.

Meranti said he hopes that families will visit the open house and that older community residents will participate in the fire education program.

“We are here to protect people and part of protection is education,” he said.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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