University Place, Wash. – September 11 is a day that will never be forgotten, especially at the fire station. Firefighters at West Pierce Fire & Rescue can easily recollect where they were when they heard the news in 2001, how being on shift that day was chaotic and a bit overwhelming, and how a group of kindergarteners were an ideal distraction.
“September 11 is a day of remembrance for public safety as a whole. It’s a time to reflect, but also a time to connect with our community,” says Fire Chief Jim Sharp.
The morning of September 11, 2001, the kindergarten class from Charles Wright Academy was scheduled to visit the University Place Fire Department for a station tour. Once the morning events started to unfold, however, the school called and asked if they should still plan to visit. They were greeted with a resounding “yes,” as the kids would be a perfect distraction for the firefighters and their energy would be greatly welcomed.
“Firefighters and police officers are rock stars to kindergartners,” says CWA kindergarten teacher Karen Burdick. “The children walk around the station with wide eyes, taking it all in. It’s their opportunity to see the life of a firefighter inside a fire station. And seeing the fire trucks and medic unit, along with all the equipment, is fascinating to 5-year-olds.”
The students visited that day, and their presence immediately lightened the mood throughout the station. This has now become a standing tradition, as they’ve visited annually around the time of the anniversary ever since. For many of the kindergartners, this field trip marks not only their first time to a fire station, but also their first time on a school bus. It’s an introduction into the world at large, away from home and school, and an invitation to engage at a young age with those who protect and serve.
“At this age, some children are afraid of firefighters and police officers,” says CWA kindergarten teacher Suzy Ebalo. “It gives the kids a chance to let them see the firefighters without all the heavy gear on, talk to them, ask questions, and then see them with all the gear on—and then they know it’s a nice person underneath it all.”
Today’s visit marked their 14th tour of the station, and both West Pierce Fire & Rescue and Charles Wright Academy look forward to continuing such a treasured tradition.
“This tradition is one we are excited to continue, “Chief Sharp adds. “It’s fun to see the kids get so excited when they walk in the door, and our firefighters are proud to show them around and provide a glimpse into their daily routine. These are the types of relationships that are important to foster, no matter what the original circumstances may have been.”
CWA’s Head of Lower School Diane Hunt agrees. “When our children are known by the members of the West Pierce Fire & Rescue and they are known by us, we will all have a stronger commitment to serve and support each other in times of crisis or difficulty,” she says. “The children become more caring and responsible citizens when they rub elbows with people whose job it is to take care of and act responsibly on behalf of the entire community.”