By Tim Harfmann
On September 10, the FDNY paid a special visit to Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy in Richmond Hill, Queens, to teach students about fire safety.
Students walked through a mobile smokehouse and navigated through theatrical smoke to see what it would be like in a real fire.
“It was, like, pitch black and I was super scared,” said Sierra Suknannan, a student at the school.
“I think the children needed, not only to review the rules and procedures, but to feel safe themselves after what we’ve just gone through,” said Patricia Winters, principal of Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy.
A fire ripped through a Richmond Hill home July 21, killing 51-year-old Silva Umana and two of her children: 19-year-old Gilbert Diaz and seven-year-old Guadalupe Perez.
Only Silvia’s 15-year-old son, Gabriel Diaz, survived.
Guadalupe was a student at Holy Child Jesus, preparing to enter second grade.
According to the FDNY, a damaged air conditioner cord caused the blaze. There were no working smoke detectors in the home.
On Tuesday, New York’s bravest stressed how smoke alarms are the difference between life and death.
“You might get hurt and you might not survive,” Sierra learned.
“It’s for our safety and to survive fires,” explained Aydan Padilla, another student.
According to the FDNY, 88 people died in New York City fires last year. In two out of every three fires, there were no working smoke alarms to be found.
Lieutenant Ryan Gorecki travels with the FDNY’s Fire Safety Education Unit, teaching students about the dangers of fire and smoke.
“In a real fire situation, it’s black. We can [hardly see] in front of our face,” he said. “So what we’re trying to teach them is that your hands now become your eyes,” Lt. Gorecki explained.
Just as students were able to find light at the end of a dark, smokey hallway, they’re also finding light through the dark tragedy of losing a classmate.
“They’ve been told that should they have a day where they’re feeling sad or they’re afraid, all they have to do is ask the teacher; and they can come down and we’ll get somebody to speak with them,” Winters said.
Holy Child Jesus will hold a memorial service on Friday, September 13, where they’ll plant a tree and release balloons in honor of Guadalupe and her family.