LOWER MAKEFIELD >> Kids and parents held onto their hats as a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter landed in a field next to the Woodside fire station on Heacock Road.
The dramatic - and very windy - landing kicked off Friday’s Fire Prevention Open House at Station 80 as Yardley-Makefield firefighters presented an action-packed hands-on evening of activities for all ages.
Once on the ground, helicopter pilot Corporal Edward Stefanides, stationed with Aviation Patrol Unit 1 in Reading, answered questions from parents as kids peered through the copter’s large windows for a peek inside.
“A lot of people here today have probably never been this close to a helicopter before,” said Stefanides. “It’s nice that the public can look and ask questions about the equipment that we have and the missions that we do.”
From its base in Reading, the Pennsylvania State Police Emergency and Special Operations unit logs thousands of hours of flight time a year patrolling an area stretching from Philadelphia to Selinsgrove and Lehigh to Franklin County.
The unit is called on to conduct searches and rescues; assist in vehicle pursuits; conduct criminal surveillance; participate in marijuana eradication efforts; crime and traffic incident scene photography; transports; Emergency Management and Homeland Security missions providing an aerial platform for incident command and control; and attending events promoting law enforcement efforts.
As youngsters and adults inspected the helicopter in a field next to the fire station, others checked out the fire apparatus on display in front of the station and learned about the fire company, fire prevention and county and local emergency services at information stations set up inside the firehouse.
Booths also shared information about the Cops ‘N Kids Children’s literacy program, Pennsbury D.A.R.E., and railroad safety, both inside and outside the train, presented by SEPTA.
Fire company president Larry Newman spent a busy evening handing out hundreds of plastic fire helmets and special fire company t-shirts.
“It’s crazy, but it’s great,” said Newman. “This is exactly what we want,” he said of the huge turnout. “This is how we inspire kids and teach them prevention and maybe one day they join the company.”
Just outside the back bay doors, kids had a chance to use a live hose line to knock down pretend flames at the company’s popular Fire Prevention House.
Nearby, as brilliant lights flooded the scene, John Sileski, a Hurst rescue tool representative from Municipal Emergency Services Inc., demonstrated how rescue crews use e-draulic tools to free victims trapped inside their vehicles at accident scenes.
Several adults were given a chance to pick up a Hurst tool and pry open a vehicle like a can opener as family members captured it on their smartphones.
Among the volunteers was John Mohan of Lower Makefield, who was attending the open house with his wife and their children.
“It’s very impressive,” said Mohan, who cut through a piece of the vehicle’s frame and removed a car door using the Hurst tools. “It was heavy and awkward, but pretty easy to use,” he said of the Jaws of Life. “It was really cool and a lot of fun.”
The Mohan’s are regulars at the annual fire prevention open house. “We love this. We come every year,” he said.
Meanwhile, out in front of the station hundreds of kids and their parents assembled on the banks of a drainage basin to watch the Lower Makefield K-9 Unit in action.
As kids devoured cotton candy and snow cones, Police Officer Jason Landis and his five year old bomb-sniffing German Shepherd partner, Titan, demonstrated how the department uses canines to track down and apprehend suspected criminals.
“If you go missing and mom and dad can’t find you and you walk 100 yards or a mile away from your house, he’ll find you,” Landis told the kids. “His primary job is to track down bad guys and when he finds them he’s going to bite them unless the suspect cooperates.”
Following the K-9 demonstration, attention turned to the opposite end of the fire house where Captain John Daniello led a fire extinguisher demonstration.
Volunteers, outfitted with protective turnout gear and equipped with a fire extinguisher, were given the task of extinguishing a fully-involved outside pit fire.
In dramatic fashion, they used the PASS technique to extinguish the fire. PASS stands for: Pull the pin, Aim low pointing the extinguisher at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent and Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out.
The evening concluded in dramatic fashion as firefighters demonstrated how they approach and extinguish a roaring vehicle fire.
During the training demonstration narrated by Newman, an extinguishment team used a hose line to attack a fully-involved van fire as a crowd of about 800 parents, children, grandparents and others watched the dramatic scene unfold.
“On the nozzle is Chip Booher, a math teacher in the Plainsboro School District,” said Newman. “The nozzle man always has a backup person behind him because there’s a lot of pressure coming out of that hose with the water. The purpose of the backup man is to take the pressure off of the nozzle man.
“Every so often you’ll see white flashes,” continued Newman, as the fire roared through the van. “That’s because there’s some magnesium in the dashboard and when magnesium is hit with water it burns bright white.”
As smoke billowed and the firefighters dowsed the vehicle with a powerful stream of water, Newman pointed out Lt. Joe Coscia, who was walking around with a thermal imaging camera.
“That will show them if there are any hot spots left in the car,” said Newman. “Even though you soak it with water, there are some cracks you can’t get to. They will show up on the camera.”
From start to finish, a typical car fire takes firefighters about an hour to handle, said Newman. “And then when we get back to the station, we have to repack the hose and clean the equipment for the next alarm.
“Some weeks we only have seven calls. Other weeks we could have 22. You just never know,” said Newman.
In the event of an emergency, Newman urged the crowd to call 9-1-1. “If you’re inside the house make sure you get out of the house and have an escape plan ready,” he said.
Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Goldberg, who organized the evening’s schedule of events, was pleased by the turnout, which he estimated at well over 1,500.
“Tonight was phenomenal. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer night to have the community come out and learn about fire prevention,” said Goldberg.
Throughout the event, Goldberg said the public had an opportunity to watch a State Police helicopter land and take off and put on safety gear and use e-draulic Hurst rescue tools to cut apart a car.
The crowd also got to watch a fire training demonstration where a van was ignited and firefighters went in and showed their skills at extinguishing a vehicle fire.
“It’s not every day the public is able to see an automobile fire and get to see what firefighters do when they train for something like that,” he said.
Goldberg personally extended his thanks to the participants, from emergency responders and police to conservation officers and SEPTA.
Even as the event came to a close the excitement level remained high with Goldberg noting, “The kids are still lined up - probably 20 to 30 deep - to extinguish a pretend house fire with a live hose line.
“It’s been a great evening for everyone to come out and learn about fire prevention,” he said. “And don’t forget to ‘Plan you escape.’ Get out. Stay out. Dial 9-1-1. And practice your escape,” he said.