Children come face-to-face with firefighters

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | APRIL 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Laird Holden stood clutching a red fire truck to his chest, his eyes transfixed on the life-size version parked smack in the middle of the Pedestrian Mall.

The 4-year-old, wearing black and red fire boots, had the chance to meet his heroes during the Iowa City Public Library's first Firefighters and Crime Stoppers Preschool Story Time Thursday.

During story time, roughly 130 listened as officials from the Iowa City Fire and Police Departments and the Johnson County Sheriff's Office provided safety tips.

But the event wasn't just a chance for Laird to come face-to-face with friendly firefighters and safety officials — it was an opportunity for him to overcome a fear.

"He loves anything associated with fire trucks," said April Holden, Laird's mother. "He's really into it, but he's really scared, even when we read books, of firefighters with their masks on."

Laird's fear isn't uncommon among young children, and it's something emergency personnel said they want to avoid.

"It is important that they recognize what our gear looks like and what our face piece looks like," said Iowa City Fire Lt. Scott Goolsby. "So in the event there is a problem, they don't try to hide from us or think that we're not there to help them."

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During the event, 3- to 5-year-olds had the chance to meet the Sheriff Office's canine, Lazer, sit in the front of a squad car, and practice "stop, drop, and roll."

"They're like little sponges," Goolsby said. "They're ready to learn."

During the half-hour period, the children also learned that a man with a uniform and a badge is safe to talk to, not to play with matches or lighters, and how Lazer helps deputies.

Officials from all departments agreed that early interaction with children is important.

"It's not often that kids have interactions with police, thank goodness, so any interaction with officers is a good thing," said Iowa City Crime Prevention Officer Jorey Bailey from his squad car.

"Sometimes, we run into children who have had an interaction with an officer in a bad occasion — maybe mom or dad got pulled over, and they were scared — so any good interaction is good for us and it's good for them as well."

Debbie Dunn, a library assistant in child services, said the Iowa City Public Library has a special guest story time every Thursday, but the firefighters, officers, and deputies were brought in by request from a local daycare service.

"It's important for the kids to meet the individuals who might need to come and assist them in an emergency some day," she said. "To put a true face, and not just a TV image, to the officials gives them substance."

The children also had the opportunity to see emergency vehicles from each department up close, accompanied by a firefighter in full uniform.

"I like fire trucks," Laird said beaming, just before bounding toward the big red truck.

And even though the event was meant to be fun, Holden said she makes a point to bring him to similar events to familiarize him with emergency personnel and what they look like.

"I like to bring him to things like this so he knows it's safe, and he should go to them in an emergency," she said. "It's good to get him familiar so he's not scared if there ever was a fire."

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