Kids in Southaven have an opportunity to learn valuable life and safety skills while also having fun along the way this summer as the Southaven Fire Department hosts its annual Fire Academy for Kids program. 

The Fire Academy for Kids, a free program open to all eight to 12-year-old residents living in Southaven, teaches kids what it is like to be a firefighter, as well as fire safety, motor vehicle safety, bicycle safety and first aid skills.

The program began in 2011 with one week-long session and has hosted two week-long sessions every summer since that year. Each Fire Academy class typically has about 20 kids. This summer's first session had 22 participants and was held from June 24 to June 28 at Southaven's fire training facility on Tulane Road.

Malena Alderman, Public Fire and Life Safety Educator, leads the kids' fire academy with Southaven firefighters.

"This program's a little bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the day in the life of a firefighter or fire and EMS," Alderman said. "It's also life safety skills from fire prevention to injury prevention."

Each day of camp focuses on a different topic and curriculum. On Monday, kids were introduced to the fire service and learned about all of the different jobs and specialties within the fire department, as well as the turnout gear, air packs and hand tools. They also learned the differences between a fire truck and a fire engine, toured the vehicles and compartments, sprayed the fire hose and learned the different spraying patterns.

Tuesday included a tour of the training grounds, including the bottom level of the burn building where firefighters train, and of the different props used for training. On Wednesday, the kids learned about home escape plans, smoke alarms, calling 911 and the "stop, drop and roll" procedure.

Thursday is Medical Day, in which kids learn about seatbelt and helmet safety, tour an ambulance, see an air ambulance, talk to the helicopter's crew and learn what air ambulances are utilized for. They are also able to see an extrication demonstration.

"The other day they got to see the jaws of life," Alderman said on Wednesday. "Tomorrow they will actually get to see those in use. We want to expose them to that so if they ever are in an accident, they won't be scared of us whether it's a fire or a car accident."

The Fire Academy combines classroom instruction and fun, hands-on outdoor activities that help students apply what they have learned in the class. Wednesday's outdoor activities included an obstacle course that put a home escape plan into action, with the kids touching a smoke alarm, crawling through a makeshift tunnel, touching a door, opening and climbing through a window and racing to a mailbox, where they told Alderman what number to call during an emergency. The obstacle course concluded with the kids carrying a dummy to safety on the other side of the lawn.

The kids were also able to spray a fire hose and walk through a "safety house" trailer that contained a pretend kitchen where Alderman showed them potential fire dangers and a pretend bedroom where students were able to role-play what they are to do in a real fire emergency.

"Looking at a child's bedroom versus talking about it in a classroom and telling them what to do, you can actually see that they have retained it and now they can do it should it ever happen," Alderman said.

Jimmy Wiseman, one of the captains of the Southaven Fire Department, noted the value of a program like this.

"[This program] tries to get these children involved, tries to give them an idea of what we do so they'll understand when they see us and understand what we do for a living," Wiseman said.

The camp culminated on Friday with a graduation ceremony in the board room of City Hall. All campers received patches, trophies and certificates at the ceremony.

The second camp will be held from July 22 to July 26. To register, parents can fill out an application at the Southaven Fire Department Administration Office located at 8710 Northwest Drive. The program is open to the first 20 children that turn in applications, and priority will be given to children that have not attended previously.

Brent Walker is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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