Rockford has a fire department that is unlike many others, Boy Scouts from Troop 264 learned during a tour of the station on Thursday, June 21. Firefighter Robert Berkstressor welcomed the youngsters and told them he is a believer in the value of Scouting and earned the organization’s highest honor of Eagle Scout in 1976. He said the lessons he learned as a Scout helped him in his career in the United States Air Force, and in his nine years as a Kent County Sheriff deputy before being hired full time in the Rockford Fire Department 17 years ago.
Rockford’s fire department is what is called a “combination” department, a mix of full- and part-time and paid on-call firefighters. He said being a firefighter is a career for men and women, and Rockford has three women on its force. Berkstressor said Rockford used to have staff on for 24-hour shifts, but has changed its structure. Now fire personnel work 12-hour shifts and after hours wear a beeper in case a call comes in. Paid on-call firefighters respond to incidents such as fires, car crashes, illness, collapsed buildings (called confined space rescue) and more.
Having a home escape plan in case of emergency is something every family can do to be more safe, Berkstressor noted. He showed kids and their parents the safety exits in the fire station should there be an emergency during the tour. Having a fire/smoke detector installed in the home in the recommended places is one of the most important safety steps everyone should take, he advised. He gave a half-dozen examples of fatal fires in which children and adults were killed, pointing out that in each there was no working smoke detector in the home.
“A ten or fifteen dollar smoke detector could have made the difference in each of these examples,” Berkstressor said.
In addition to having a smoke detector on each floor of a home, it is also important to have one in every room where people sleep. Berkstressor said smoke detectors used to require new batteries once a year, but now batteries last the lifetime of the device—about 10 years. “If you have one older than that, replace it,” he said.
Other tips for fire safety include not running extension cords under rugs or, ideally, don’t use extension cords at all. Don’t leave space heaters unattended, either.
The kids were also allowed to look at the gear firefighters use, watch a video and ask questions.