Heartland Fire and Rescue Open House in El Cajon highlights safety and rescue

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Last Saturday it was hot as blazes in El Cajon, and people poured into the Fire Station on Lexington Avenue. It was not a fire that kept them coming in droves, but the annual Open House at the El Cajon fire station.

El Cajon Public Information Officer Monica Zech said the Open House is an event of Fire Prevention Week for the Heartland District. The event is one of the many opportunities the city takes throughout the year to educate the community on safety.

Last Saturday it was hot as blazes in El Cajon, and people poured into the Fire Station on Lexington Avenue. It was not a fire that kept them coming in droves, but the annual Open House at the El Cajon fire station.

El Cajon Public Information Officer Monica Zech said the Open House is an event of Fire Prevention Week for the Heartland District. The event is one of the many opportunities the city takes throughout the year to educate the community on safety.

“It’s all about trying to prevent the 9-1-1- calls we see every day,” said Zech, who coordinated the event.

Firefighters usually double as paramedics in 911 calls. It is paramount, therefore, that preventable emergencies are kept to a minimum so as to enable the firemen to battle blazes that people themselves cannot control.

One of the smartest and easiest ways that people can prevent their own emergencies is to make sure they have good smoke alarms in their home. The theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week of the Heartland District was “Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives. Test Yours Every Month!”

“It’s essential to make sure the batteries are good in your smoke alarms. And watch burning candles with the holidays coming up,” said Chris Paddock, a firefighter with Heartland District.

Almost three of five (60 percent) of reported home fire deaths in 2007 to 2011 resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. What’s more, working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home fires in half, according to Zech.

Firemen are always heroes among children and they had plenty of chances to watch their heroes in action open Saturday. Firefighter Tim Campbell bent down to give 2-year-old Logan Cofrancesco a junior officer badge sticker.

Both children and adults watched firemen drag long hoses from the bright red engine adjacent to the library. The firemen set to work demonstrating a vehicle rescue extrication of the sort that happens in accidents when people are trapped inside and can’t get out of the vehicle. 

Air pressure builds up into the hoses to the special window-puncturing tools, Zech explained to the wide-eyed crowd.

Windowpane glass shattered at the feet of the firemen as they worked quickly, puncturing the glass with the special tools. Then they picked up a tool that looked like a gigantic wrench and began to pry the car doors off their hinges. 

The tool they used is called the “Jaws of Life.” The metal of the car bent like paper under the thousand pounds of pressure of the ‘Jaws.’

“The goal of the firefighters is to get you out of the car as quickly and safely as possible so that you can get to the hospital quickly and safely,” Zech explained.

The entire vehicle extrication demo took about twenty minutes, with firefighters working together to wrench off all the car doors. When the top of the car came off as easily as a lid, the crowd clapped.

“This is all a good reminder that you must wear seatbelts when you drive,” Zech said. “Not too long ago the driver of a car was killed in an accident, the steering wheel embedded into his chest.”

When the firefighters finished the extrication demo, Alan Lowder, a volunteer at the Home Depot Workshop for kids, came up to thank them.

“It’s amazing how quickly they were able to get it done, taking a whole car apart. They are keeping us safe,” Lowder said.

For the past 30-plus years, it has been a tradition for El Cajon to celebrate Prevention Week during the month of October. The El Cajon Fire Department became Heartland Fire & Rescue in 2010 and now serves the three cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove  

“This is my 13th year of having the pleasure and honor of being the coordinator of this event. It’s been a labor of love to offer this education and service on the second Saturday of October each year,” Zech said. 

For more information about Heartland District presentations, lectures and events on fire prevention, safety and rescue, go to www.heartlandfire.org.

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