At Brody, Fire Drills Improve for Better Training, Learning

Brody Middle School is piloting an effort to make fire drills a better learning opportunity.

Brody Middle School is piloting an effort to make fire drills a better training, learning opportunity.

Des Moines Fire Marshal Jonathan Lund was sitting in a class at Drake University, working towards certification as an Executive Fire Officer, when a fire alarm went off. No one budged. People looked at each other questioningly. The teacher said what most were thinking: “It’s probably a drill.”

In case it wasn’t, Lund did leave the building and when he returned to class he had an idea for one of the four research projects he needed to complete. And thus began a program of deluxe fire drills at a cohort of DMPS middle schools two years ago. Wednesday morning the last of six for the 2014-15 school year at Brody was conducted and Lund was there, along with some of his colleagues from the fire department, to see that it went off without a hitch.

Brody was a logical site to pilot the program because Lund’s wife, Anna, teaches 8th grade science there. She helped write the lesson plans that are one of the special layers to this new and improved fire safety training. Four of the six yearly exercises are linked to classroom instruction on what to do if an alarm sounds in atypical circumstances. What, for instance, do you do if it’s a passing period? Or lunchtime in the cafeteria?

The drills are announced ahead of time so everyone knows they’re coming. After the building’s been efficiently evacuated and everyone accounted for the fire department arrives, just as they would in the event of an actual emergency. In Wednesday’s drill fire officials entered the premises and climbed down the steep stairs into the bowels of Brody to inspect the school’s sprinkler and alarm systems.

“We hope to expand this enhanced series of drills to the elementary and high schools,” Lund said following completion of Brody’s latest practice. “They’re part of an effort to create a truly fire-safe generation from ‘stop,drop and roll’ in early grades to principles of fire safety on college campuses for high school students before they graduate and leave home.”

Schools are required by law to hold regular fire drills. Beyond that mandate there hasn’t been a formal partnership between DMPS and the fire department. This pilot program changes that in multiple ways. It’s even a potential recruiting tool to attract prospective firefighters, according to Lund, which brings up another noteworthy event that happened on Wednesday at Brody, almost as soon as the first-thing-in-the-morning fire drill was over.

Principal Thomas Hoffman has coordinated an ongoing overhaul of the Brody library. He says approximately one third of its collection has turned over in the last three years. The latest update was formally opened for business at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the College & Career Library in a corner of the school’s media center. There are materials aimed at students, teachers and parents. In keeping with Brody’s emphasis on technology upgrades, a rack of Kindles is included that will enable students to access materials in libraries all over the world. There’s even a book in the Essential Careers series called First Responder in case the more meaningful fire safety protocols are piquing anyone’s curiosity about what it takes to be a firefighter, police officer or emergency medical technician.

The newly repurposed wing of the library was made possible by a grant from GEAR UP Iowa, a program designed to prepare students both academically and financially for college.

Hoffman says one thing will lead to another with GEAR UP and the college/career collection. “Next year we hope to use our allocation to actually take some kids on campus visits at Iowa colleges and universities,” he said at the ribbon-cutting.

Between two special events on Wednesday morning one thing was clear: Students at Brody have never been safer or sounder.

Video from Brody Middle School

Photos from Brody Middle School

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