Lori Winkler teaches child-safety classes, stressing that the home can be a dangerous place, but it doesn’t have to be.
Unintentional pediatric injuries are the leading cause of deaths of children under 19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet they can be prevented, “so having a safety program is crucial in keeping our kids safe and reduce our traumas that are coming in,” said Winkler, injury prevention nurse coordinator at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
The issue is so important that the hospital has a key partner in the education effort: the West County Safety House, which demonstrates how to stay safe through poison control, first aid and a plan for fires or weather disasters — have a family fire evacuation plan, maintain working smoke detectors, learn how to use a fire extinguisher and more.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that in 2019, 75% of all fire deaths and 73% of all injuries from fires were caused by home fires. The death rate in home fires was 15 percent higher in 2019 than in 1980, while the comparable civilian injury rate was 34 percent higher than in 1980.
It’s an eye-opening situation for people who come to the Safety House. A simulated bedroom heats up with smoke coming in from underneath the door. In the kitchen, an oven, toaster and microwave burst into a realistic but simulated fire. There’s a mannequin of a firefighter wearing full gear, designed to lessen fears of younger children who might panic if they see a real firefighter in a rescue.
Kelly Cobb is executive director of the Safety House, a project of the West County EMS and Fire Protection District. “Our mission is to provide education region wide,” Cobb said. “With the hospital partnership, we are able to broaden our impact.”
Prevention and education are the keys, with something as simple as working smoke detectors often meaning the difference between life and death.
Winkler and two other staff members at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital provide injury prevention education. Important are partnerships and collaboration through the Safe Kids St. Louis Coalition. “The Safety House is phenomenal because it’s a hands-on experience,” Winkler said. “I can sit and talk to you and give you numbers, but with that simulated interaction, it sticks.”
Winkler, a parishioner of St. Ambrose in St. Louis, lives by the mission of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary and the SSM Health System: “Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God.” As a Catholic, Winkler said, “it’s a calling for me. I’m doing God’s work by ensuring to never do negative to others. It’s my faith and the mission of Cardinal Glennon, which never, ever turns away anyone on their ability to pay. Through my Catholic faith upbringing, I was taught you treat people the way you want to be treated. This is what God wants us to do. Be kind to other people, help other people.”
Chief Jeff Sadtler of West County EMS and Fire Protection District urges families to plan for a fire or other emergency in a home — how to act and where to meet outside. It could prevent people or firefighters from going back inside a house to look for someone who may already have escaped.
The partnership with SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital “is huge for us,” he said.
In recent months, the Safety House has conducted virtual events from the facility. But some school visits in the district have continued.
Tracey Allen, pre-kindergarten director at Visitation Academy, said the Montessori preschool students appreciate learning about fire safety from Cobb. Each year Cobb comes to the school along with West County firefighters and EMS personnel, as well as a visit with a fire truck and an ambulance.
“This year we were especially grateful for Kelly when she arranged a visit despite the pandemic,” Allen said.
Janice Leeper teaches 4-year-olds at Christ Prince of Peace School in Manchester. Safety House representatives visit the preschoolers in October and “really get on a level the children can understand,” Leeper said.
As a Catholic school, Leeper said, the educators stress the need to take care of each other and the community — which is exactly what firefighters and paramedics do.
The West County Safety House provides training and education for all ages on fire and home safety.
• Pre-schoolers and first-graders learn through a story time. This program is available at the facility or at locations in West County EMS & Fire District.
• School-aged children tour the Safety House. It is available to all residents and communities statewide.
• Field trips are offered for large groups, children and/or adults. Safety House partners with SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Childrens Hospital, Burns Recovered, Rise Martial Arts, and MO Poison Center. The field trip is tailored to fit a group’s needs and requests.
• A mock DWI crash teaches the danger and consequences of unsafe driving behaviors. This program is available at facilities located within West County EMS & Fire District.
Call Kelly Cobb at (636) 220-9691 or visit www.westcountysafetyhouse.org for information or to schedule an event.