COLUMBIA — The fourth-grade boys at Field Elementary entered their classroom with questioning looks aimed at the new person in a firefighter's uniform standing at the front. Volunteer firefighter Martina Pounds began the first Survival Kids lesson of the year by asking the students, "How far away should you stay from a fire?" Eager children raised their hands, waiting to be called on.
"Five miles," one student said.
Pounds is one of 19 volunteer firefighters with the Boone County Fire Protection District who teach survival skills to fourth-grade classes in Columbia and Boone County. The number of instructors is up from 12 last year.
"Most of the new instructors are young and college students or just out of college, and they have an interest in teaching," Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp said. "They see the benefit of the program and want to be involved."
Survival Kids is taught in 12 schools and 29 classrooms. Instructors visit students once a month for eight months. The subjects of the lessons include firearm safety, personal safety, burn prevention, bicycle safety, escape planning and water safety.
Having more instructors decreases the number of schools each instructor visits, Blomenkamp said. Last year, one instructor taught in nine classrooms among four schools.
Most of the new instructors have been paired with more experienced ones to create consistency for teachers and students. If one instructor can't come, the other can fill in without a scheduling change.
There are no current plans to add the program to additional schools, Blomenkamp said, but the district will add other schools if requested.
Survival Kids started in schools where volunteers had children or relatives attending. Pounds helped start Survival Kids at Ridgeway Elementary, where her son attends, and she also has a daughter at Jefferson Junior High School. This year is her third teaching in the program. She works from home for her family's construction company and is also involved with Missouri Task Force One.
"I knew about the program and was really interested," Pounds said. "I have fun teaching the kids and love working with them."
Blomenkamp acknowledges the importance of the volunteer-driven program.
"They're doing this for free. They care about their school and about their community, so they want to be involved," she said. "It truly enhances the experience with the kids when someone wants to be there teaching them."
In the middle of the class at Field, Pounds pulled out a candle to demonstrate the three elements of fire: oxygen, heat and fuel. If one element is missing, the fire goes out. She placed the candle on a tray and lit the wick. With the opposite hand, Pounds placed a glass over the lit candle and asked the students which element was removed. Several boys in the class stood up from their desks and said, "I want to see, I want to see."
"It's really interesting to see how kids react," said Kelly Pulliam, a fourth-grade teacher at Field. "It gives insight into what the kids see within their community at home."
Pounds said that although there is no way to measure the success of the program, she finds joy in seeing the children's reactions.
"I really like seeing kids in the summer at the grocery store or around town," she said. "The kids will tell me a story about something that happened and what they did because of the lessons."