8/28/2008 2:59:00 PM Fire Pals program touches insurance agent's heart
Central Yavapai Fire District Assistant Chief Charlie Cook receives a $500 check for the Fire Pals program from Allstate agent John Ravnick, while Fire Pal Zack Fields watches from the fire truck at the station in Dewey-Humboldt Wednesday. TribPhoto/Cheryl Hartz
Allstate insurance agent John Ravnick of Prescott Valley has a 5-year and counting commitment to the Fire Pals program at Central Yavapai Fire District.
"I can't think of a better program to support than Fire Pals," Ravnick said. Wednesday, Ravnick handed over a check for $500 to CYFD Assistant Chief Charlie Cook, who oversees Fire Pals. The grant to CYFD came with an Agency Hands in the Community Award from the Allstate Foundation to Ravnik for his commitment to helping others where he lives and works.
But Ravnik emphasized the award runs a distant second to the need to support CYFD's seven Fire Pals - five in the Humboldt Unified School District and two in charter schools.
Cook said the 15-year-old program costs about $20,000 per year, but none of the money comes from tax dollars, but by donation and also from plan review fees - what the department charges to review plans for sprinklers and such in buildings. The money pays for materials, props and prizes, as well as for off-duty firefighters to serve as Fire Pals.
Fire Pals such as Zack Fields.
In his fifth year as a Fire Pal at Mountain View Elementary, Fields spends 30 minutes a month with each class. The first semester he works with grades K-2; the second semester is for grades 3-5. He teaches both fire and life safety skills, talking about everything from bikes to guns to water.
"We cover those 'gray areas' not covered by DARE or that the kids may not get at home," Fields said.
They also make sure the kids are comfortable around firefighters. Fields said when he puts on his gear, the students are OK until he
dons the breathing apparatus mask. The sight and sound scares them until he says, "Hey, it's me, Fire Pal Zack."
"The last thing you want at a fire is to have the kids hide from the firefighters trying to get them out," Fields added.
With a teaching background - his mother teaches at Abia Judd Elementary and his grandfather was principal at Lincoln and at Miller Valley, all in Prescott - Fields recalled how excited he was to apply for the program.
"I was really hoping to get in; it was like testing for the fire department," he said.
Cook called every one of the Fire Pals role models, and said that once a Fire Pal is on the job, he tends to stay on the job.
"We don't have any turnover," Cook said.
"I feel I get more out of the kids than I give to them," Fields explained the reason. "The stories I come home with...kids say the funniest things. I think it's the best program the fire district has for the public. We're proud of our program."
Cook expounded on that with, "I think we have one of the best programs in the country. We're touching kids' lives every week."
They've seen positive results from the program. Cook said one boy wouldn't wear a bike helmet until Fire Pal Bob talked about it. A week later, while wearing his helmet, the boy broke his arm when a car hit him. But he didn't hurt his head.
"I bet he wouldn't have listened to the same message if it came from mom and dad," Ravnik commented.
A local Kindergarten-age girl knew enough to dial 911 when she found her mother unconscious on the floor, thanks to the Fire Pal program.
And, course evaluations from each teacher and the parents come back 98 percent positive, Cook said.
Ravnik said he appreciates what Charlie Cook has done with the Fire Pals program. "We're so fortunate to have him; he touches our district's school children in a positive way more than any other place in the state of Arizona."
But Cook tossed the credit right back.
"Without support from people like John, we wouldn't have this program that's so important to our youth and community.