East Marshall elementary leaders, first responders team up for fire safety lesson

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — Gilman volunteer firefighter Mason Thompson, right, helps Neveah Schine exit through the window during a drill at the East Marshall Elementary School in Laurel on Friday morning.

LAUREL — While most students have participated in at least one fire drill and know the basics of what to do in such an emergency, having a backup plan when the main exits are inaccessible can be crucial to escaping to safety.

On Friday morning, East Marshall Elementary Principal Cathy DeBondt invited volunteer firefighters from the Gilman, Laurel and Le Grand departments as well as Sheriff Joel Phillips and Chief Deputy Ben Veren to the building in Laurel for a tutorial on these situations, which doubled as an opportunity to promote the need for volunteer and professional firefighters.

Gilman Fire Chief Jacob Patterson has a foot in both worlds as he also works full-time with the Marshalltown Fire Department (MFD), and the safety of East Marshall students is especially important to him as his daughter is one of them.

“(Kids) have just always got to know (and) have an idea of a different way out just in case your primary means of egress is gonna be blocked,” Patterson said. “We never know what the circumstance may be, so it’s always good to practice various instances for a just in case scenario.”

And while firefighters generally tend to take the lead on these types of incidents, Phillips said law enforcement utilizes a command system to ensure that officers can be placed where they can provide the most help.

“We make sure everyone gets out of the building. We want to secure the scene. That’s primarily the law enforcement role,” he said.

After the initial traditional fire drill, DeBondt introduced the volunteer firefighters — including one who is on staff at East Marshall — and law enforcement, thanking them for their service and explaining while they were in attendance.

East Marshall Elementary Principal Cathy DeBondt, holding megaphone, addresses students while local law enforcement and firefighters look on Friday morning.

From there, the students practiced exiting the building out of windows and got a helping hand from the firefighters if they were struggling. And when they came back together afterward with chants of “Mustang Strong,” DeBondt again reminded the students that they could someday be the firefighters returning to their alma mater to provide safety tips for the next generation.

“We all need more firefighters, no matter where you’re at, whether you’re paid or volunteer,” Patterson said. “We need more people who want to help out, so I think with the sheriff’s office and us being able to get out in public and put our gear on and show that we’re not scary. We’re here to help and we like to help people. I really think that that helps kids.”

Students and the firefighters themselves practice exiting the building through the side windows at East Marshall Elementary School in Laurel on Friday morning.

And as Veren noted, the same skills they learned as applied to fires can also be utilized in an intruder situation to ensure a safe exit.

“The Sheriff’s Office has an excellent working relationship with our schools and enjoys partnering with our local fire and EMS personnel to conduct regular drills and training for schools,” Veren said afterward. “Parents should rest assured knowing that the staff and students are well-trained and we are confident in their abilities should they ever need to act in a real emergency.”

DeBondt, who is set to retire at the end of this school year, was equally appreciative of the collaborative partnership.

“The East Marshall staff and students would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the local law enforcement and firefighters for their collaboration during our recent fire drill at East Marshall Elementary. This collaboration not only enhances our preparedness for potential emergencies but also strengthens the bond between our school and the dedicated first responders who serve our communities,” she said after the event. “We are incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive and responsive team of professionals who prioritize the safety and well-being of our children. Their presence and guidance during the drill were instrumental in helping our students understand the importance of fire safety and emergency preparedness. Thank you once again to our local heroes for their commitment to protecting our community and for their ongoing support of our school’s safety initiatives.”


Contact Robert Maharry at (641) 753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.


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