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Monday, March 27, 2023
ArlingtonOpinion'Old School' column: Ounce of prevention

‘Old School’ column: Ounce of prevention

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Remember the fire drills during our school days? We had several each year, and one of them was always during this week – Fire Prevention Week.

We were told to drop whatever we were doing, take nothing and follow the teacher in a calm line to the designated exit. And we did just that during several practice drills.

After we were all outside, sometimes freezing and impatient, we got the all-clear signal once the adults made sure no one was still inside.


For the Fire Prevention Week drill, things got serious. Our principal, Miss Marsh, started the drill, clanging the fire bell by hand in her office. By then, appropriately rehearsed, we could have marched out in our sleep.
Meanwhile, the fire chief was on hand to time our drill and grade it. If everyone got out of the school in 15 minutes or less, our school, James Whitcomb Riley Elementary, got an A.

If not, we knew more drills were in our future. As the weather grew colder, the threat of more drills provided plenty of motivation to get it right when it counted.

While still a student, I heard and read about the terrible fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. Dozens of kids died, either from the fire or from jumping out the windows in panic. Suddenly those drills didn’t seem like such a waste of time.

I also remember learning Stop, Drop and Roll as a preventative measure if our clothing caught fire. We saw at least one film about it, with warnings that the WORST thing to do was fan the flames by running.

We also did a few drills about what to do during a nuclear attack. We were to get on the floor under our desks, rolled into a tight ball, with our arms covering the backs of our heads.

The thought of not being safe at school was as foreign to me as if I’d seen UFOs landing on the roof of the place.

I’ve now seen two different suggestions on Facebook for securing a classroom door in the event of a sniper roaming the school halls. I understand there are also lessons/drills for students caught out of the classroom when an attack occurs.

Somehow those tiresome, Old School drills, even in cold weather, seem pretty tame compared to today’s drills and their causes. I still marvel at how lucky we were

Reach Carol McEwen at carolwrites4fun@gmail.com.

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