A white cloud fills the small room. Second-graders clamber to the floor, test the door for warmth and crawl out of the room, all under the direction of a firefighter.
There’s no fire.
As part of Fire Prevention Week, Portales firefighters brought their “fire safety house,” a specialized teaching mobile home, to James Elementary School. Second-graders experienced a simulation of a smoke-filled room and then had a lesson in other home safety rules.
Also this week, Portales Fire Department is starting the annual Fire Buddies program, in which firefighters visit first-grade classrooms to teach fire and home safety. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students are set to tour the fire station through next week.
“To me, the biggest part of this program is this target age group,” said Portales Fire Chief Gary Nuckols. “So by the time they hit third grade, we hope that we’ve given them all the information that they need by that age level to carry on with them about how dangerous fire can be and what to do in the event of the emergency.”
Second-graders Bryan Rojo and Sara Encinias went through the fire safety house Tuesday. Sara called the experience “cool” and said she learned “that you have to duck whenever there was smoke in your house.”
Both students had toured the fire station and participated in the Fire Buddies program.
“I like it a lot because the firefighters teach us how to do stuff and we didn’t know how,” Bryan said of Fire Buddies.
Sara said during a fire, people could remember what the firefighters taught so they would know what to do and not get so scared.
Bryan and Sara’s teacher, Vanessa Florez, had never taken a class through the fire safety house before.
“I think it’s a really big benefit to our kids to have that opportunity,” she said, adding the hands-on experience would let students know what to do.
Florez said the firefighters work well with the students.
Nuckols said the fire department starts children with fire station tours in preschool and kindergarten to get them acquainted with firefighters and the station before showing them equipment and bunker gear that could be frightening.
Firefighters bring out the gear during the Fire Buddies program and spend personal time with students, Nuckols said. By second grade, he said, firefighters hope the students are comfortable with them and try to finalize the teaching.
Firefighter Chris Smith took students through the fire safety house Tuesday.
“They actually get to experience the smoke and actually see what it’s like to be in the smoke,” he said.
Smith said children get excited about the fire house, and he likes to see how they remember lessons from previous years.
Fire department 2nd Lt. T.J. Cathey said the department has been marking Fire Prevention Week for years.
“The biggest thing is helping serve in the community we grew up in,” he said.