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Ky. firefighter uses humor to teach safety

By Dariush Shafa
The Messenger-Inquirer

DAVIESS COUNTY, Ky. — Usually there’s nothing funny about Harvey Henderson’s job, but when it comes to teaching schoolchildren about fire prevention and safety, he prefers to use laughter to make the lessons more memorable.

Henderson, a fire inspector and investigator with the Daviess County Fire Department, said he enjoys the lighter side of his job and doesn’t mind letting his alter ego “Burney the Clown” do the teaching.

“I think it’s a tool for us to get the kids’ attention. It sticks in their mind a little bit more,” Henderson said. “If you can present it to them in a way that’s fun or exciting for them, it’s easier for them to remember. It’s a way for us to get the point across, and it works for us.”

Henderson has been doing this for 18 years and said he doesn’t have any plans of slowing down. This kind of information, he said, needs to be in constant supply.

“The same mistakes are made each year as far as accidental fires. It’s just different people doing it,” Henderson said. “That’s why we present it each year to the children, talking about what to do and what not to do. It’s important for us to get the information to them because we think it’s important to prevent fires.”

During his class, Henderson covers multiple topics, including home escape drills, “stop, drop and roll” to put out a fire and smoke detector maintenance and replacement.

“There’s just so many little things that kids can catch on and remember,” Henderson said.

Robin Winnecke, principal at Audubon Elementary, said Henderson and other firefighters provide invaluable information to students.

“We feel it’s important to prepare our young children for what to do in case of an emergency,” Winnecke said. “These are things you just don’t plan.”

But more than just teaching about fire safety, she said, it helps the children learn about who the firefighters are.

“I think it’s good for the kids to see that they’re human and to build that kind of relationship with them,” Winnecke said. “They see that they (the firefighters) are pretty nice guys and that will take care of them.”

Henderson said Burney the Clown will spend plenty of time with the children this month and hopefully for many years to come.

“To me, education is key to saving lives,” Henderson said. “That’s why we go to the schools.”

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