(Posted Aug. 3, 2021)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
Ethan Carney was on a mission.
After learning about fire safety and prevention at Safety Town–held July 26-29 at Plain City Elementary–the rising kindergartener walked through his home, making observations about potential hazards and possible escape routes to take in case of an emergency.
When he discussed his findings with his parents, he asked for their official plans for exiting the premises safely should there be a fire.
Jody Carney, Ethan’s mother, said she was caught off guard by her son’s request. She and her husband could have made up an answer on the spot but chose to be honest and tell their son they did not have a plan.
“It was quite embarrassing to admit,” she said.
The Carneys promised Ethan they would soon have a plan, one they would practice together. Jody said she is proud her son learned something new and took the initiative to put that knowledge into action.
Until last month, more than a decade had passed since Plain City last hosted Safety Town, a national program through which local first responders and safety experts teach children about a broad range of safety issues.
Knowing the importance of those lessons, a group of Plain City area mothers worked to bring the program back to the community.
It was the winter of 2020 when Carney was brainstorming programs to offer to Plain City residents. As Plain City’s mayor, she said she is always looking for events everyone can enjoy but specifically wanted to find something for young children who were negatively impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and closures.
“Last year was a year of disruptions, and I wanted to find something fun where they could socialize with their peers but also learn something along the way,” she said.
Carney sought advice from Kristin DeWitt, Amy Dobbelaere, Tamara Engle, Amber Martinez and Missy McCoy. They found a perfect program, one that had already been in their community years ago but needed to make a comeback.
“Safety Town is a wonderful tool for children,” said Dobbelaere, a former educator with Circleville City Schools. “Not only does it teach them to become comfortable around police officers and firefighters, but it also provides them with lessons, potentially life-saving lessons, on how to be safe on the bus, how to be safe walking to school, how to be safe at home, at the pool, and how to be safe around people you do not know.
“I was involved in Safety Town as a child, and those lessons that I learned had such an impact on my life. It was our hope that that knowledge would stick with these children as they grew, too.”
With a plan in mind to re-establish Safety Town, Carney reached out to local safety experts to see if they would lend their time and expertise to the cause. She said all the departments she contacted were eager to help.
“It has truly turned out to be a community collaboration,” she said.
Participating agencies included the Plain City Police Department, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Pleasant Valley Fire Department, Union County Health Department, the Humane Society of Madison County, local poison control agencies and the village’s aquatics center.
With the various health and safety agencies on board, it boiled down to community interest. Because the program is designed for kindergarteners, organizers worried about a low turnout. That was not the case. According to Carney, more than 60 children who will be kindergarteners this fall signed up to attend Safety Town.
Tate Byars was among them. He said he learned many informative lessons, especially the importance of not consuming household chemicals.
“You really shouldn’t drink cleaning supplies,” he stated.
He said that in addition to learning, he had a lot of fun making new friends and riding the bikes at Safety Town.
Castle Cray also said he had “a lot of fun” riding the bikes, though he did get annoyed by the wait times at the traffic lights.
Michael Talbert, a sheriff’s deputy, joked that he could have handed out hundreds of citations as the children explored the rules of the road.
Amber Martinez, one of the local moms who helped to organize the event, said she was “so excited” to see Safety Town back in the community.
“This program, especially this station where they learn traffic rules, is so important,” she explained. “It allows (children) to know what to do when they cross the road and to really look out for their safety because sometimes the drivers are not looking out for theirs.”
It wasn’t all bike rides, climbing out of smoke houses and singing along to safety songs. Participants also got to meet Andor, Plain City’s K-9 police officer, walk around the neighborhood, learn about gun safety, and hear stories from Philip Greenbaum, a detective with the Plain City Police Department, about “stranger danger.” Though he has many stories about that subject from his job, Greenbaum stuck with reading “The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers” by Stan and Jan Berenstain, as it is more age appropriate.
While he had to read the same book over and over, Greenbaum said he was happy to do it to teach children how to be safe around people they do not know.
“We don’t want to scare these kids too badly, but we have to remind them that not everyone out there has good intentions,” he said.
Greenbaum ended his lesson by making the kids promise not to run away from their parents or guardians while they are shopping together, and to always tell them where they will be if they leave the house to play.
“They want to protect you, but you have to help them do that sometimes,” Greenbaum explained.
Courey Leer, whose daughter, Dorothy, will be a kindergartener this school year, said she appreciates the efforts that went into re-establishing Safety Town, especially the lessons safety officials imparted upon the children.
She said Dorothy was ready to act when a small grill fire got out of control the other day.
“She told her dad to stop, drop, and roll,” Courey said. “Though he was not on fire, the intention was good, and I appreciate her quick action.”
The organizing mothers said this year’s Safety Town was such a success they plan to bring it back next year and into the future.
“We are hoping it will grow next year, and that it will continue growing in the years to come,” Dobbelaere said.