EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – A virtual fire safety demonstration turned surreal on Wednesday afternoon, when a water pipe burst at the Eastchester Middle School, sending hundreds of students to shiver in the leftover snow outside.
Seventh-grade student Dominick Mancuso was halfway through “extinguishing” a virtual fire in Linda Sokol’s health class when the bells sounded for a fire drill shortly after 2 p.m. when the pipe burst near a construction site, sending harried students and teachers into the frigid fields behind the school.
“Well, that was ironic,” Mancuso mused while standing outside on the track with his arms inside his sleeves for warmth. The situation was promptly corrected and students were allowed back in the building within a few freezing minutes.
Before the drill disrupted the lesson, students in Sokol’s class were being taught the basics of fire extinguisher safety and utilization by firefighter Lawrence Vitarello and Capt. Thomas Pintaville, both members of the Eastchester Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau.
Pintaville introduced the class – and four others before it – to the different types of extinguishers, and how to use them. At the end of the lesson, students attempted to extinguish a virtual fire, which was animated on an interactive screen. Their weapons of choice to battle the “blaze” included a pair of virtual extinguishers that emulated the results with a light of its own.
“It’s important because it gives them the basics of fire safety in a different way. This is a fun way to learn fire safety,” Pintaville said. “It’s a little bit of fun to get them to fight an electrical fire, but it’s also important to show them how difficult it is. We want them to be prepared, but we also want them to call us before trying to do anything themselves.”
Vitarello added that, “It helps them to remember this way, rather than a video. This is a little more like a video game in a weird way for them, but they got to experience how difficult it was to put out the fire.”
In all, about half of the students were able to triumph over the faux fire, with the girls narrowly edging the boys in a friendly competition. This was the final of three fire safety demonstrations Sokol employs with the department each year. Her students have hands on experience watching firefighters in a smokehouse and they’ve watched a safety video that shows how quickly a fire can spread in a home.
Sokol echoed the firefighters’ words, reminding the students how difficult it is, especially in the “heat” of the moment. In the spring, she is hopeful of enlisting a similar program with the same virtual fire, this time using actual water instead of a virtual extinguisher.
“We want them to get out of the house as quickly as they can, but we also want them to know how hard it is to use [an extinguisher],” she said. “All in all, it’s a fun, educational experience for them.”