Safety first

30th August 1996 at 01:00
When a Tameside primary pupil rescued a pensioner from a house fire, the local emergency services could see that their safety education campaign was working. The Tameside Emergency Experience had recently conducted 1,300 Year 6 pupils through a series of personal safety scenarios, and the child had drawn on his recollection of three different ones: escaping from fire, the recovery position and making a 999 call.

During an intense seven-day period, participating pupils are ferried to the exhibition, where representatives from the emergency services have set up interactive demonstrations of coping with a variety of common hazards. Split into groups of eight, the children learn how to cope with bullying, how to put an unconscious person into the recovery position and how to escape from an upstairs house fire.

Tameside's school nurses aim to alert children to dangers around the home. Drama students from a local college enact a five-minute play, Katie's Kitchen, in which a child returns from school clutching a discarded syringe. Other hazards include bleach in a lemonade bottle, broken glass and trailing wires. After watching the play, children are invited to look around the stage and find hazards for themselves, talking to the school nurses about what they find and receiving points for each success.

PC Steve Ellis is responsible for bringing the show together each year. Despite the hard work and difficulties in securing funding, which comes from police charities, he considers the effort worthwhile. After each event he regularly receives hundreds of letters of thanks from the young visitors. And when he subsequently visits local schools he finds nearly all pupils can recall verbatim the lessons they learned.

PC Ellis debriefs all the children after their mammoth two-hour session. He believes one of the greatest benefits of the Emergency Experience is in helping to raise children's self-esteem. Once children have learned that they have the skills to deal with difficult situations such as bullying or peer pressure they are more able to tackle individual problems with confidence.

Pupils participate with enthusiasm. Most say they hope that their younger siblings will have the opportunity to visit and some would like to come back with their parents. Some parents grudgingly admit that their children have nagged them into safer behaviour, such as not opening car doors into the road.

Members of the emergency services see a long-term value in what they are doing. After two years, most services can cite at least one incident where a child said they coped with an emergency because of their visit to the exhibition.

Teachers say that safety lessons taught by experts in a practical manner away from the school environment are far more effective than lectures and videos, even if the same experts come into school to give a talk. Children prove receptive to hands-on practical training and value the certificate which says they've completed the course. T These exhibitions are seen by those who attend them as lessons for life.

For further information contact the Schools Liaison Officer, Ashton Police Station, Manchester Road, Ashton under Lyne OL7 0BQ. Tel: 0161 856 9252

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