Owen Hayes, a kindergarten student at Mebane’s E.M. Yoder Elementary School, was prepared when a crisis struck the afternoon of Tuesday, April 30. Thanks in large part to the Fire Prevention program implemented by the Mebane Fire Department in Mebane’s elementary schools, young Hayes knew exactly what to do when a fire began to flare up on the stove at his grandmother’s house.
Hayes is a high-functioning autistic student in Beth Courtney’s kindergarten class. The training that he received through his classes at Yoder Elementary - training that he enjoyed practicing over and over at home - came in very handy, as he knew to dial 911 and assist in getting his grandmother out of her home to safety.
“I sat and relaxed in my chair. And suddenly, my granny’s old oven goes smoking,” Hayes said. “The smoke came inside, and I saw a flame in there. I called 911 from my granny’s. I called the firefighters to help.”
Hayes’ call was received by the Mebane Fire Department, who promptly responded with a truck and crew to put out the fire. The home was saved, and there was no loss of life or property.
“Just the stove was the casualty, which was fine,” Hayes’ mother, Ursula Evans, said. “(His grandmother) had a new one on Saturday.”
“It was amazing. When he described (what happened) to me, after I got to my moms, it was just amazing,” Hayes’ mother added. “I thought, my gosh. He remembered everything. He remembered everything. He reminded her about calling 911. He said, ‘Grandma, we’ve got to get out of the house.’ And he got her out of the house. He checked her to make sure she wasn’t on fire, so they didn’t have to do stop, drop, and roll.”
In appreciation of his quick thinking and response to the training, Owen received a “challenge coin” from the Mebane Fire Department, along with a bag full of fire-related items including a MFD cup and coloring books.
“You carry (the challenge coin) into your pocket in case somebody challenges you as to whether or not you know your address,” Mebane Fire Chief Bob Louis informed Hayes. “That coin has a picture on the back of the first truck that got to the house (in response to the fire). We’re very proud of you at the Fire Department. You keep up the good work.”
According to Chief Louis, the Mebane Fire Department started the fire prevention program in the elementary schools in Mebane in the early 1980s.
In the early days of the program, the fire officials relied on local volunteers. In recent years, the program has been organized by members of the Fire Department’s Career Staff program, headed up by Fire and Life Safety Educator and Certified Instructor Jennifer Livers.
“Every year in October, we visit every elementary school (in Mebane), and they’ve been great to work with,” said Louis. “We think it’s important to teach the kids - pre-K through second grade.”
Each fall, the Fire Department Career Staff program makes it way to Yoder, Garrett, and South Mebane Elementary Schools with its special trailer, which simulates a live fire situation, and teaches kindergarten, first, and second graders the proper techniques for escaping a fire and calling for help.
“Mrs. Courtney, and all the teachers, they know we’re coming in October,” Livers said. “So they want to make sure their class is prepared. Yoder, the teachers really work with them. They send notes home to parents letting them know they’re doing that, They work with them about stop, drop, and roll, hot and cold things, learning your addresses and phone numbers. Meeting places and things.”
“We purchased a trailer that simulates a fire in a bedroom,” Livers added. “We take them in, and we encourage them to learn their addresses and phone numbers. The bedroom that we have, each child goes in there one at a time and they lay down on the bed. We smoke the room up, and the smoke detector goes off. They crawl down from the bed, and crawl to the room under the smoke.”
“They feel the door - we do have a heated door, so the door feels hot to the touch, and they know not to open it. They turn away from the door, and they go under the smoke to a window, where we have firemen waiting. They open the window, and they yell, ‘Fire!’ They go out the window to the firemen, and they go out and practice stop, drop, and roll.”
“We have a table set up (outside the trailer),” Livers continued. “We call that our meeting place at our neighbor’s house. At that table, we have a telephone. The children, they pick the phone up and they actually dial 911. It’s a phone with a cord. At the other end of the line is another firemen. So they actually talk to somebody, and we find out if they know their addresses and phone numbers.”
It doesn’t take too long speaking with Hayes to realize that the training he received from the MFD officials sunk in.
It was also evident in the moment of truth, when he took action.
“You get in the window. You open your window and get away,” he said. “Don’t use your doors. Just use the windows. When your house is on fire, what you’re supposed to do is call 911. Then the firefighters come. You need to train. And don’t forget. You never go to the doors in your home. You just go to the window. You go to the floor (to stop, drop, and roll).”
Hayes’ teacher, parents, and friends at Yoder Elementary were all impressed with and proud of the kindergarten student for the way in which he responded quickly and appropriately to aid his grandmother, save their lives, and save her home.
“I love him so much. He’s a smart boy,” Hayes’ teacher, Beth Courtney said. “It’s not just the classroom teachers that work on (fire safety). Our specialty teachers, too. Our librarian, and PE. We all focus on that, because we know that keeping them safe is our No. 1 priority.”
“I was just so proud of him, and the fact that I’m thinking that he remembered. It stuck,” Hayes’ mother added. “He remembered what to do. And that’s because of the program with the fire department, and all the reinforcement from the teachers and staff. And I think it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful.”
“Whenever he learned all of this, he came home and he said, ‘Look at what I learned today. And he would stop, drop, and roll, added his father, Russell Evans. “He said, ‘You’ve got to call 911, daddy.’ He went through the whole process. We just couldn’t believe that he retained all of that. You guys really instilled all that in him. It shows from what he did.”
“(I learned) at school. I practiced and practiced and practiced,” Owen said. “It feels happy.”