‘Impressive’ youngsters take Storm King field trip
Through a stiff breeze and intermittent drizzle, the Two Rivers Community School fourth- and fifth-grade classes on Monday tackled the trail up Storm King Mountain.
Although they were much too young to remember the 1994 fire that killed 14 firefighters, the students knew history and the significance better than many locals. Prepared by the “Risk Watch” program put on by local fire departments, they pointed out landmarks and pored over signs and listened attentively to the firefighters and other officials who guided them up the mountain.
“They were respectful. They asked intelligent questions. It’s really pretty impressive,” said Greg Bak, who spearheads Risk Watch.
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The program touches on numerous other safety elements, but for the school, the field trip was the culminating experience.
“When we announced our field trips, this was the one people were excited about,” said teacher Tricia Zienowicz.
Fellow teacher Morgan Williams agreed.
“It’s such a good opportunity to learn not only about fire and history, but to follow our mission to be place-based,” he said.
The school planned on doing a Storm King unit even before Bak approached them.
“We knew the story before going up, and I think seeing it helped them understand it,” said Zienowicz.
For something so significant, Bak observed, the hands-on approach is where it’s at.
“There’s no better way to learn history than to cast your eyes on it,” he said.
Beyond its local relevance, the disaster on Storm King helped shape modern firefighting practices.
“A lot of our protocols and safety policies came from this,” said firefighter Aaron Roggenkamp.
Roggenkamp took several opportunities along the hike to share improvements in cooperation, communication, weather forecasting and situational awareness. The hike also included a fire shelter demonstration and a discussion of how ladder fuels can help a fire burn through the same area twice – both poignant messages on the slopes of Storm King.
The kids seemed to get the point.
“We learned that firefighters need to speak up if it’s too dangerous,” said Paige Flentge.
“Firefighters need to have situational awareness,” Garrett Voller chimed in. “The fire moved up the valley in a way they didn’t expect it to.”
Despite the gravity of the subject, everyone seemed to enjoy the hike. The students brought an energy to the event that the adults along were inspired to match. For his part, Bak was glad to be getting through.
“When kids are this age, they’re an open book. The influence they get now is the kind of adults they’re going to be later,” he said. “I hope that the kids are thinking about this 10 or 15 years from now.”
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