Do you know what to do if a fire breaks out in your home? Each year, thousands of people are seriously injured or needlessly die in home fires because they didn’t have working smoke alarms or their family didn’t create and practice a home fire escape plan. Most often, it is the intense heat and thick smoke that brings injury and death to our children and not the flames themselves. The sudden wail of a smoke alarm, the darkness of night and the presence of smoke will almost always cause the untrained child to panic, prompting them to hid in closets, under beds or even in the bath tub. This makes the search and rescue job of the firefighter even more difficult than it already is.
October 10, 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc., a non-profit charity headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan whose mission is to teach children and adults what to do when they encounter smoke or fire conditions and prepare them to respond correctly to emergency situations and help those in need by learning CPR and first aid. E.S.C.A.P.E. stands for Education Showing Children and Adults Procedures for Evacuations.
“25 years ago, the #1 victim in home fires were children,” said firefighter Michael McLeieer, president and founder of E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc. “Children need to know what to do during and emergency. When we teach them and have them demonstration basic but life-saving skills, they will respond correctly each and every time and save themselves and often their family,” according to McLeieer.
E.S.C.A.P.E. was founded as a means of connecting age and developmentally appropriate fire and life safety messaging with school-aged children and adults in hopes they would be better prepared to escape a home fire alive and not become another tragic statistic. The goal was to connect resources with local fire departments, primarily paid on call and volunteer departments who may not have the means to deliver fire and life safety education or install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in homes throughout their community.
The E.S.C.A.P.E. program has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to public education locally and nationally. In 2007 McLeieer and Vice President Lt. Scott Maker were invited to become adjunct instructors for the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy. The goal was for the two to share their knowledge and best practices in public education and youth firesetting intervention with the U.S. fire service.
That same year, E.S.C.A.P.E. received a federal Fire Prevention and Safety Grant from FEMA to purchase a new and larger state-of-the-art-fire and life safety education training trailer for the program. The E.S.C.A.P.E. Mobile Training Center is decorated as a room that brings theatrical fog inside which looks like real smoke to show patrons how difficult it is to see during fire conditions. Jake the Fire Safety Dog, a black Labrador retriever, was also added to the program in 2007. Jake taught audiences how to Stop, Drop and Roll and Crawl Low Under Smoke. At least 2 “saves” have been recorded by young children (a 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl) who watched Jake’s life-safety demonstrations and understood the correct actions they should take during their home fires.
On May 22, 2013, McLeieer and the program were recognized by Liberty Mutual Insurance’s National Firemark Award for Community Service. This prestigious award is presented to one U.S. firefighter who best represents their community through courageous valor and who best demonstrate the firefighter’s selfless spirit. The award takes its name from the firemark, a leaden plate in the form of a Phoenix rising from the ashes, which American fire offices in the 18th and 19th centuries used to mark all the houses they insured. The firemark stood as a guarantee to all fire brigades that the insurance company that insured the house in question would reward them for extinguishing a fire on the premises.
On May 6, 2016, McLeieer and E.S.C.A.P.E. were awarded the National Volunteer Fire Council’s 2016 Fire Prevention and Education Award. The award annually honors an individual who has made a major contribution in the field of fire prevention.
July 31, 2014, the E.S.C.A.P.E. program had its one millionth child go through the smoke demonstration training trailer at the Maranda Park Party in Battle Creek, Michigan.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, McLeieer and his colleagues hosted webinars and Facebook Live events to share best-practices for firefighters and public fire and life safety educators to consider when they deliver their Fire Prevention Week education, even if they could not go in the schools.
E.S.C.A.P.E. and its team continue to evaluate the program’s effectiveness through pre and post exams and skills demonstrations. For the past 25 years, they have been dedicated to raising a fire-safe generation thanks to great partners including our founding partners WOTV 4 and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse.