GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — A 50-year veteran fire chief and safety instructor is doing his part to make sure fire safety and prevention training is accessible to everyone – especially some children he says are too often “abandoned.”
Chief John Murray, of the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center, has been with the fire service for 50 years. He puts those decades of experience to good use at the museum – including some patrons he says don’t get credit for what they can learn and understand.
“We do a lot with the special needs kids, and those are my favorite – they really are – because they kind of get abandoned at times. People figure, eh, they don’t get it,” Murray told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “They get it. And what I like to say – they’re not special needs. They’re just special. They really are. And they just want to be like everybody else – and that’s the way they should be treated.”
Murray has a grandfather’s gentle demeanor as he interacts with the youngsters.
“You want to make them feel like they’re a firefighter when they’re in here – so we give them plastic helmets, we put badges on them, and we talk to them like they’re firefighters,” Murray said.
He is sensitive to each child’s unique challenges, and adjusts his presentations accordingly.
“You get kids – sometimes some of them are nonverbal. Some of them are afraid of noise, things like that, and of course, we set off smoke detectors here, so we’ll tailor that to them,” Murray said. “But we look right at them. We talk right to them – not at them.”
Classes are hands-on.
“They like to be included in the program,” Murray said. “We’ll get them over to the stove to do the safety area, or we will teach them how to feel a door; watch for the smoke, and it gives them the feeling that, ‘Hey, I can do this.’”
It is a “Sesame Street”-style setting, but with serious lessons. The children are guided through an interactive village – a play place. They climb aboard a fire truck, search a burning house for a missing gingerbread man, and crawl out a window.
There are plenty of buttons to push too – and with each push, the children learn a lesson.
“Go low under the smoke or you’ll croak,” one voice says.
“B is for battery,” a third says. “Change your smoke detector batteries at least once a year.”
Murray said the special needs children who visit the museum are proud to demonstrate what they learned after they go home.
“We’ll hear back from the parents or from the teachers, and we get mail, and they also send us posters that the kids make up,” Murray said. “Best thing in the world.”
After 50 years in the fire service, Murray says his reward is “a smile on the face when we’re done. Then you know you got them. You got through to them. And they’re very proud of themselves.”
The Francis X. Pendl Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center is located at 1 Davis Ave. in Garden City.
Hear their extended interview above and find more Stories From Main Street by clicking here.