Tragic past leads to present lessons

Students get instruction in safety, history on site of school fire

Staff Writer

Oct. 18, 2001

There may be no more appropriate place to teach children about the dangers of fire than Memorial School.

On Oct. 11, about 400 students from East Clark Elementary School came to the former school to receive fire prevention tips and learn about the March 4, 1908, fire at Lakeview Elementary School. That school, located where Memorial now stands, went up in flames on that fateful day and killed 175 people, all but three of them school children.

"I thought that was a real good experience for the children," said Deborah Franklin, principal of East Clark, about last week's activities at Memorial School. She took her second- through fifth-graders to the event.

There were four stations of activities for the children to learn about fire prevention. One was a history of the fire given by Helen Kelbach, housing programs manager at Northeast Shores Development Corporation.

"The main reason the kids died is because they panicked and they fell and blocked everything," Kelbach said.

She told the students that more students may have survived the fire if they had not panicked.

"Learning how to respond in an emergency situation keeps you from panicking and helps keep you safe," Kelbach said.

Another factor in the tragedy was doors that opened inward instead of pushing out. Northeast Shores Executive Director Micah Kirman said the trampling that resulted when the doors could not be opened helped lead the way to sweeping changes in fire prevention.

"Not only did the Lakeview disaster leave an indelible mark on the Collinwood community, it helped inspire more thorough school inspections and strict new fire prevention laws in the years that followed," Kirman said.

Other stations included an opportunity for children to use the 911 system, a look at several vehicles provided by the Cleveland Fire Department and a demonstration of "Stop, Drop and Roll" by firefighters.

A spokesman in the fire department's public relations and public education division said this is an annual event conducted at Memorial School to teach fire safety to children as part of National Fire Prevention Week, which was held last week. The spokesman said the kids did well.

"They really did know a lot about fire safety, but it's always good to refresh them," the spokesman said.

The 911 station was an eye-opening experience for Franklin.

"I was surprised how few of our children know how to call 911," Franklin said, explaining that many did not know their phone number or address and did not speak clearly over the phone. "That was a good practice for them."

Franklin said she heard from a third-grade girl after the activities who was moved by what she saw and heard.

"She said, 'This is a truly remarkable experience for me. If I was one of the school children in that fire, I probably would have died because I wouldn't have known what to do,' " Franklin said.

Franklin said the school conducted a routine fire drill Monday and she could tell the children fully grasped what they learned last week.

"I did notice a difference after coming back from our fire drill," Franklin said. "The children were not pushing each other. They were well-behaved."

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