Fire safety is serious business especially in schools. While many families have designed escape plans and meeting places in case of a fire, it’s a very different situation when teachers have to get possibly hundreds of children out of a building safely. That’s why fire drills are so important in schools. Practicing what to do, where to go, and who to listen to for directions helps prepare children and in an emergency they will do what they have been taught.
One problem however is that fire safety and drills can become boring and they don’t often keep the attention of young children. Jeff Owens, a 30 year veteran firefighter and paramedic from Indianapolis wanted to see if he could find a better way to teach children about fire safety. In 1995 he started The Kasey Program. Kasey was a black Labrador retriever trained as a search and rescue dog for Wayne Township Department and also certified as a therapy dog. Kasey would go into buildings looking for survivors, even leading some residents out of a fire or smoke-filled building. Kasey was also a fixture at burn camps and hospitals, visiting children who had been badly burned and being a comfort to them.
Kasey came to Jeff Owens through a family connection. In an interview with the Hendricks County Flyer, Jeff said, “We lost a nephew to a brain tumor and I grew up having dogs, but when we lost my nephew, his dog was ready to have pups, so my wife wanted a black lab to remember him. The original Kasey was brought into the family and we started teaching her obedience and stop, drop and roll. Being a firefighter, I was asked to speak to my child’s class and I took the dog with me; the kids were mesmerized.”
And so began the Kasey program. Brought first just to local schools in Indiana, it has grown tremendously since the early days. During the first three years, Jeff and Kasey brought the program to about 3,000 children each year. When a local fire security company hired Owens to teach people how to use fire extinguishers, they agreed that the program with Kasey had to continue as well and they began sponsoring it.
The dog that started it all, Kasey, passed away, but Owens now has three other black labs carrying on the safety legacy. KD, the most senior dog is 14 years old and still goes on tour, reliably being put through the paces by Jeff, much to the delight of the kids and even the teachers that see the demonstration. Alongside KD is a four year old black Lab named Kohl. The baby of the troupe, Kali, at only 14 weeks old is still a solid performer.
Owens says that in the course of a year he and the dogs are able to travel around the country and educate close to 400,000 people. The dogs know how to show children to check a door for heat, how to crawl low along the floor to dodge smoke and of course, their signature “Stop, drop and roll” move.
Jeff also incorporates music in his program to help kids remember fire safety tips. In an interview with USAToday, he said “I can prevent a firefighter from having to pull a child out,” Owens says. “And I know how traumatizing it is to the firefighters, let alone the trauma sustained by the families. So that’s what drives me to go out and teach as much as I do.”
Check out the video to see the Kasey Program in action
I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.