Thousands attend kids’ safety event

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Sunday, August 22, 2010 | Mary Perham | Categories:
Horseheads, N.Y. — Anna McCausland, 6, listened, big-eyed and solemn, to what she should do if her house ever catches on fire. She perched on her seat in the Horseheads Volunteer Fire Department training unit and walked with her mom, Julie McCausland, into the unit’s small bedroom, then laid down on the bed. Moments later, the smoke detector went off as smoke poured into the room. Anna and her mom rolled off the bed, and the little girl felt the door with the back of her hand – too warm. She crawled to the window where waiting volunteer firefighters helped her out. The room evacuation took less than a minute. But if the unthinkable ever happens and Anna, and her little brother Joshua, are ever in a house fire, their short training exercise has made them safer kids in the long run. That was the point for the children’s parents, the Horseheads firefighters and the 26-year-old Strong Kids Safe Kids festival at the Chemung County Fairgrounds Saturday. The annual event started out as an opportunity for parents to have their children’s fingerprints taken as a safety measure. But something happened as earlier organizers – representatives of area human services agencies – met to plan the next year’s event. They formed a strong network that not only included local law enforcement and fire agencies, it included children and family agencies, schools, religious agencies, youth groups, business and civic groups, according to festival co-chair Susan Collins. “It’s not just human services,” Collins said. “We have a strong relationship between the businesses and human services.” Collins has been co-chair for four years with local businesswoman Misty Purdy. The number of sponsors and activities just keeps growing, organizers said. A 20-year-plus veteran of the festival, Susan Carne, of Big Flats, said she brought her children to the event for the identifications and continued coming every year. Back then the event took place in on a portion of Wisner Park, in downtown Elmira, with 10-15 displays and roughly 500 children in attendance, Carne said. As it grew the festival took over the entire park, shifted to Eldridge Park, then moved to the county fairgrounds. This year, thousands of children and their families attended the SKSK event, with many taking advantage of the free transportation by First Transit. More than 100 volunteers smoothed the way for families, with 75 participating sponsors. Children had the chance to ride horses, climb walls and bounce around to their hearts’ content. They also donned fire gear, watched firefighters use the heavy equipment to pry open vehicles and eat hot dogs and ice cream. Any profits are turned over to SKSK, which typically spends $15,000 to host the event. Collins recalled watching a child staring in awe at a “beautiful state trooper” at one of the earlier festivals in Wisner. The trooper took off his hat and gently placed it on the entranced child’s head, she said, with tears in her eyes at the memory. Those seemingly small touches may go along way toward shaping young lives – something the McCausland family may want to remember. Carne said her son loved the smoky house exercise when he was little. “Today,” she said. “He’s a volunteer firefighter.”
The Leader
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