In any group of preschoolers of any size there are always a few who aspire to be firefighters when they grow up. I mean, come on, they're certifiable real-life superheros, powerful, larger than life. They might not wear capes, but they have suits that protect them from fire (although they would not protect them from lava, which Orlando made sure to confirm). They cannot fly, but they get around in big loud trucks that race to the rescue. And even the kids who don't see putting out fires in their future are awed and and impressed.
We pretended as we waited for them to arrive, marrying our fantasies with what we've been learning about fire safety from the curriculum the Seattle Fire Department provided us.
We've found that these pipe insulation sleeves make terrific fire hoses. Not only to they look a lot like hoses, but they're light weight, so much so that no matter how hard you swing them, it's virtually impossible to get up enough speed to hurt someone, even if you hit them right across the face.
But as engaging and empowering as firefighter play is, it's hard to not keep one eye on the clock and one eye on the window when you know the real thing is coming to your school.
We started off by meeting them in the gym, where they asked us some questions and where we got some of ours answered.
Station 21 has been sending a truck to our school for the past 9 years. A firefighter once told me on one of these visits that it's very common for young children to be so intimidated by their presence, especially when fully dressed for a fire, that they hide or run away, which is of course, the opposite of what needs to happen when a real fire threatens. One of the primary purposes of this outreach is to show the kids that there are just regular, friendly people under all that equipment in order to increase the odds that children come to them in an emergency.
They also want us to know basic fire safety, including the "stop, drop, and roll" method of putting out a fire should it get on our clothes. Max, quite proudly, and bravely, got to demonstrate. He even remembered to cover his face with his hands.
In nearly a decade of doing this, I've never known a child to be disruptive, squirrely or otherwise unable to pay attention to this "lecture" portion of the program. Maybe that's because they all know that it's a small price to pay for what comes next.
We're always warned that should a real fire call come in, the truck will have to leave, so we're a little relieved to find it waiting for us in the parking lot.
I love how they ran the entire session as an informal Q & A, giving the kids ample opportunity to talk, mostly on topic.
Only one child was too intimidated to approach the fully outfitted firefighter, but I got a promise from him that if he saw one in his house, he'd go to him.
And Sylvia got an answer to one of the most pressing questions given that this year's crew were all male, "Are there any girl firefighters?" Yes. And the chief told us proudly that Seattle is second only to San Francisco in the number of female firefighters.
We then got to take turns sitting in the truck, followed by an opportunity to do something that we've never done before at Woodland Park: operate a real fire hose attached to our corner hydrant.
Real life superheroes who came to play with us: it doesn't get better.