Singing to Save Lives
Two decades of fire safety through song
Think back to your school days. Was it easier to memorize a popular song or a vocabulary definition?
The melody, rhyme and rhythm and its universal appeal makes music a powerful teaching tool. Incorporating song into lessons can make it a fantastic resources in any classroom, no matter the age of the student.
For years, fire safety was taught to Lafayette, IN children at their schools. Firemen would share important fire safety messages with the help of sock puppets, trying to hold the children’s attention. This was fairly effective but they did not know if the children retained the message and the number of children reached was limited.
In the early ‘90s, the Lafayette Fire Department added fire safety songs from a CD the Phoenix, AZ Fire Department recorded. The AZ team created the songs by changing lyrics to popular songs on the radio.
The central Indiana firemen were amazed at how quickly the kids picked up the new lyrics and the messages they carried. So in 1994 with help from a grant by State Farm they moved their fire safety program to a downtown theater, added some live characters (the firemen in costume) and bused hundreds of students from local schools to watch and learn.
State Farm has continued to provide grants for 22 years in an effort to help these Firemen reach as many kids as possible.
“It was an exciting time for the firemen” stated Fire Fighter Jerry Reynolds. “We felt we were making a huge impact in fire safety education.” But the firemen weren’t satisfied, they had bigger dreams.
The Firehouse Band comes together
Three years later, seven firemen from both the Lafayette and West Lafayette Fire Departments formed the Firehouse Band. The kids were mesmerized by the live performances. Teachers reported weeks later the kids were still singing the lyrics. The Firehouse Band knew they found their niche. With the larger show, more volunteers were needed and up to 20 State Farm associates participated in various roles each year.
Teachers requested recordings to be played year round, so the band produced their first CD. The signup for classrooms for the following year’s October shows exploded and the band had to move the show to an even bigger venue. They had morning and afternoon shows with anywhere from 500 to 1,000 Pre-K to 2nd graders from all over the county attend.
The first songs were borrowed from the Phoenix band with licensing dates. Later, the Indiana band decided to write their own songs. They produced a second CD and developed an accompanying DVD.
Pushing the fire safety envelope
But they weren’t done yet. They brought in more characters played by other firefighters. They performed skits to show the message. Each skit was followed by a song to reinforce the message.
“The combination was perfect,” shared Shelly Tucker, a first grade teacher. “My kids sang the songs for days after going to the show. They still remember the words the following year as sing along during the show!”
“The message is in the music,” Jerry said. Jerry has been a part of the safety teachings since the puppet days.
“I watch the high school kids that once went through the show as a young child walk into the auditorium while we are rehearsing,” Ron Ritchey, the Assistant Fire Chief shared. “They sing the songs out loud - they still remember the message.”
Since the early 90’s, the band has performed for more than 100,000 children. Their main focus is their nine shows each October for National Fire Safety week. But the band has played in many different venues, like the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and Riley Children’s Hospital. And they bring their cast of 20 characters like Mike and Minnie Match, Louie and Luigi Lighter and Sparky the Fire Dog with them.
”As a student I was lucky enough to attend the Fire Safety Show,” says Elizabeth Claxton, now a third grade teacher. “It left a lasting impression on me and now as a teacher, I teach my students using the CD’s and videos that have the same songs and skits I learned from when I was a kid”.
In central Indiana, these committed firemen are leaving a lasting legacy of safety.