As a fire and life safety education specialist for the Champaign Fire Department, Dena Schumacher has been interested in our community’s safety for more than 20 years. Schumacher manages, develops and conducts safety programs for all ages, with many campaigns delivering their message to children in Champaign. Schumacher also serves as the public information officer for the department and emergency management. And even though her son is in his 30s, she’s still a Chambanamom at heart.
Given her background, Chambanamoms is happy to have Schumacher begin a series of stories with us, entitled “KISS Moments: Keep It Simple and Safe.” Once a month Schumacher will use her expertise to educate members of the Chambana moms community, giving us all an opportunity to keep our own families safe. Today, Schumacher tells us a bit about herself.
Q: Tell us about what you do at the Champaign Fire Department.
My job as a fire and life safety educator presents heart wrenching as well as heartwarming moments.
Firefighters arrive to assist on someone’s worst day. More than 70 percent of the Champaign Fire Departments fire calls involve medicals and rescues. They arrive to find people suffering: perhaps involved in a disabling car crash, a devastating fire, a tragic drowning, a child hit in the driveway, a life lost. Simply heart-wrenching.
And hours later we can be doling out good news, encouragement, and life-saving information to a group of precocious fourth-graders. Simply heartwarming.
In addition to providing crisis and public information for local and social media, creating emergency preparedness campaigns and lessons, I manage and deliver specialized fire and life safety education programs within the Champaign community. These include fire prevention and preparedness programs for preschoolers, youth, business, seniors, youthful fire setter assessments, fire extinguisher training, smoke alarm distribution, residential Knox Box distribution, and unintentional injury prevention and protection.
Q: What is the most important safety issues you are addressing with kids today?
Stealing that Nike line: Just do it! Take responsibility for yourself and your own safety.
Last Sunday, I spied two middle-school-aged boys — with fitted helmets in place — riding their bikes along University Avenue. As I could observe them, they obeyed all the rules of the road and used the correct hand signals for lane turning. I was impressed! I wanted to stop the car and hand them a coupon for a free McDonalds’ sandwich or some “way to go” reward!
But this is not always the picture. It disappoints me to see a family riding bikes with all the kiddos touting the latest fashion-statement helmets and dad’s hair flowing freely in the breeze sans the helmet to protect his brain. He is the provider and protector of his family. Role modeling is key. Our kids watch and learn from us.
Accidents (unintentional injuries) are the number one killer of people ages 1 to 44! It’s not heart disease. It’s not cancer. It’s not even homicides or suicides. It’s ACCIDENTS. And they are generally predictable and preventable. This is not new news. Quiet, unassuming, and life-saving prevention initiatives like Risk Watch have allowed prevention educators to slash the number of fire deaths across America from more than 15,000 in 1989, when I began my career at the Champaign Fire Department, to fewer than 2,000 deaths across the nation last year. And the lives saved because of prevention efforts are not solely in the fire safety realm.
A young boy climbs on the counter to grab the peanut butter from the kitchen cabinet and spies his grandma’s heart medicine sitting next to the jar. A door left is open to the in-ground pool, mom is in the kitchen, and the 2-year-old toddles towards the beckoning water. A 4-year-old grabs the grill lighter left on the picnic table beside the grill.
Every life is precious.
Q: How can we as parents educate our kids about safety initiatives without scaring them?
I was driving on South Neil Street by the Larry Kanfer Gallery and glanced over at that crazy orange neon air man blowing wildly back and forth, up and down, zigging there and zagging here, and I thought, I feel just like that creature. I know my feet are planted here in C-U, but my body is seemingly yanked this way and that to the point I can barely stand up. There’s too much. And I’m too busy.
We’re all too busy. And when does this stop?
The plethora of safety messages out there is overwhelming. They are conflicting. They are competing for air space, financial backing, and glitz. How do we know what’s truly important? How do we know what to say? What’s truly worth my time, energy and focus?
Accurate, simple, straightforward and positive messaging is key. As I said before, I fight fire with words. Words can make us or break us. We’ve got to keep it simple, authentic, powerful.
Hence: Keep It Simple and Safe
Taking time to let our kids know how much we value them, how much we appreciate their gifts, giggles, and smiles is an important first step. It’s worth the effort to invest the time, to tell the stories to seize the opportunities.
Our role model may be the most powerful safety message we share. It just might be life-saving.
Q: What are some back to school safety tips?
- For kids. With summer coming to an end and the start of the school year around the proverbial corner, let’s remember to do our part to keep kids safe as they walk to school. Parents need to be proactive and take time to talk about safety with our kids. Walk the route to school with your kids before school’s official start. Together, look for hazards selecting the simplest route with the fewest traffic crossings. Discuss being cautious near a roadway, driveway, alley, curbs. Share stories from your own experiences.
- For adults. Slow down and be alert in the residential neighborhoods and school zones. Take extra time to look for kids at the intersections, on medians and on curbs. Enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully. Watch for children on and near the road in the morning and after school hours. Concentrate on the road and your surrounding as you drive. Put down the phone; no talking or texting while driving.
Q: What local safety resources should parents know about?
- Safe Kids, Champaign County
- Safe Kids, USA. All things safety.
- Risk Watch, an unintentional injury prevention program in Champaign and Urbana schools, has been showcasing positive life saves and successes in our community for more than 15 years. Local risk experts from police, fire, American Red Cross, Champaign Park District, Carle Foundation Hospital, and Safe Kids, Champaign County work together in kindergarten to fifth-grade classrooms, sharing accurate and synchronized life safety messages once teachers have taught the age-appropriate Risk Watch lessons.
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
- Center for Disease Control