Teaching the way to E.S.C.A.P.E. for 25 years

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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.

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The E.S.C.A.P.E. Fire Truck in the early years. It was used to give fire truck rides and show children what a fire truck looks like when it arrives at their home to mitigate any emergency situation.

“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.

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The original E.S.C.A.P.E. trailer was 27′ long and was decorated like a children’s bedroom. It had a bed and closet to show children the places they should never hide, and there was a window and door to escape the theatrical fog. It was decorated in a Loony Tunes cartoon theme.

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.

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E.S.C.A.P.E.’s preschool visits include our very popular “Tools vs. Toys” program. The firefighter sits on the floor with the students and removes various items out of a special box. This box contains items that are “ok” for children to use and play with, but also includes “tools” that should only be used by a grownup. This interactive activity allows the children to decide for themselves what is a “tool” and what is a “toy” by having the firefighter place each item in one of two piles. Skills taught include critical thinking, problem solving, responsibility and mathematics.

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These children are eager to make a simulated smoke alarm using paper plates. The firefighter demonstrates how a real smoke alarm works, the importance of having a fresh battery in the smoke alarm and making sure the battery is changed twice a year. The students are able to color their pretend smoke alarm and battery the color of their choice. Skills taught include gross and fine motor skills and active participation.

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.

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E.S.C.A.P.E.’s Youth Firesetting Intervention Program teaches respect, responsibility, team building, and good decision-making.

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.

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Jake the Fire Safety Dog sits with this class of children. Together they learn about fire and life safety techniques inside the 38′ E.S.C.A.P.E. Mobile Training Center smoke demonstration training trailer.

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Children learn how to Crawl Low Under Smoke (theatrical fog) to simulate what to do during a home fire!

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.

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Firefighter Michael McLeieer holds the 2012 National Firemark Award for Community Service.

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.

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The 2016 National Volunteer Fire Council’s Fire Prevention and Education Award was presented to E.S.C.A.P.E.’s founder, firefighter Michael McLeieer on May 6, 2016 for his commitment to America’s volunteer fire, rescue and emergency services.

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.

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Happy 25th Birthday E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc.

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WOOD TV 8 launched the Connecting with Community Awards in 2008. E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc. was honored to be one of the 8 finalists that first year!

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E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc. and Rescue One Fire Safety For Kids were finalists in the WOOD TV 8 Connecting with Community Awards on May 13, 2010 for our combined community outreach teaching fire and life safety.



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