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FDNY teaches boro residents fire safety, prevention

Last week Thweatt provided northeast Queens residents with a little bit of both—for...

By Patricia Demchak

Former New York City firefighter Pete Thweatt knows a little knowledge can mean the difference between life and death, and that a split-second forewarning can save lives.

Last week Thweatt provided northeast Queens residents with a little bit of both—for free and with batteries included—at three community fire safety education events sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and funded by private companies.

Nearly 200 residents received free smoke detectors and fire prevention and survival tips at the events, held Wednesday through Friday at the Samuel Field YM and YWHA in Little Neck, JHS 216 in Fresh Meadows and the Forest Hills Senior Community House, said Dalia Shapiro, chief of staff for Hevesi.

Shapiro said that while turnout was low for the JHS 216 event, planners were happy with any increase in fire safety awareness. She said they were particularly pleased by the reaction of the 50 or so senior citizens who picked up smoke detectors in Forest Hills.

“Many of the seniors were saying that they had never had the opportunity to get a smoke detector,” Shapiro said. “Seniors really are vulnerable: they’re more likely to be at home, they’re slower to move. If they have a fire and they have a smoke detector, that is going to offer them more time to move to safety.”

The three educational sessions were part of an ongoing citywide fire safety program that began about seven weeks ago and aims to distribute some 35,000 smoke detectors and a good dose of fire education to residents in all five boroughs, said Lt. Joe Torrillo, head of fire safety education.

Paid for by contributions by Jeep, Home Depot, Kidde Fire Protection Equipment and New York Presbyterian Hospital’s burn center, the program has one goal: to save lives, Thweatt said.

Thweatt said he has spent 20 years in the field fighting fires and several more teaching about fire safety, and he customizes each presentation to the needs of his audiences, which have ranged from business groups to elementary schoolchildren. He said the most important and rewarding people to educate are kindergartners.

“When I finish with them and I ask them questions, and they can repeat what they just learned, I just saved their life,” he said.

Torrillo said anyone who missed out on last week’s programs is still welcome to call the fire safety education office for a free smoke detector, although he encourages everyone to attend an educational session. Community members and organizations can also call the office to book additional fire-safety-related programs, including two mobile fire simulation units that fill up with lung-safe pseudo smoke so children can practice fire escape drills.

For more information, call the fire safety unit at 999-2344/2343.

Reach reporter Patricia Demchak by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155

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