Fairfield Police Department offers disaster training for students

Officer Jon Chlebowski explained the importance of having a family disaster plan.

Officer Jon Chlebowski explained the importance of having a family disaster plan.

Rachel Scharf / Hearst Media Connecticut

FAIRFIELD — When it comes to emergency preparedness, it’s never too early to learn the basics.

For the second year in a row, the Fairfield Police Department is teaming up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to teach local fourth and fifth graders about disaster planning. The STEP program (Students’ Tools for Emergency Planning) is a free, two-hour session that provides students with an interactive workshop, a tour of the police and fire stations and chance to make their own emergency supply kits.

Officers Jon Chlebowski and Lance Newkirchen and Lt. Edward Weihe held their second of five workshops Tuesday, delivering the STEP program to an energetic group of 10 fourth and fifth graders. After learning about different kinds of disasters, such as fire and weather emergencies, students played interactive games to reinforce these lessons in a fun context.

Officer Chlebowski discussed the importance of having a family communication plan and a disaster supply kit ready with all the essentials in case of an emergency.

“Essentials means only the stuff you need,” Chlebowski explained to the attentive group of students.

The children then got the chance to make their own supply kits, packing water, first aid kits, blankets, flashlights and whistles into bright yellow bags that can be easily spotted in the dark. The officers encouraged the students to add their own additions to the bags at home, such as non-perishable food and backup batteries.

FEMA designs and disseminates these STEP workshops throughout the country, and it’s up to local police departments to tailor them to fit their communities. Lt. Weihe had the original idea to bring STEP to Fairfield last year.

“When I first heard about the STEP program, I thought that’d be great for our department,” Weihe said.

Officer Newkirchen explained that they adapted FEMA’s program to meet their needs, changing it from a one-hour to a two-hour session and putting all of the material together into a Powerpoint presentation. It’s been so successful, Newkirchen said, that FEMA has asked them to share their materials.

Officers also tailored the program to include local and universal examples so that students could be prepared for both at-home emergencies and those that might occur during travel. For example, they showed photos from Hurricane Sandy damage in Connecticut, but also talked about how earthquakes can occur in other parts of the country.

Students left the workshop equipped with new skills and emergency materials, as well as certificates acknowledging their training. Three more STEP sessions are scheduled this summer on July 30, Aug. 6 and Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. at the Fairfield Police Department.