If Fluffy the cat climbs up a tree, should a child call 911, asked Rutherford County Sheriff's telecommunicator Zach Kirsch. "No," shouted a chorus of enthusiastic 1st grade students at Barfield Elementary School.
"When Fluffy gets hungry, she'll come down for tuna," Kirsch joked as the children laughed. If a child is injured when an adult isn't home, should a child call 911? Kirsch asked. "Yes," the students replied.
The questions and answers were part of a new program for kindergarten through 3rd grade students Kirsch and fellow telecommunicator Raymond Shew developed to teach children how, why and when to call 911. They will work with the school resource officers to teach the program in every county school.
Kirsch presented the first program last week in 1st grade classes taught by Natalie Russell, Heather McKee and Robin Saupe. Principal Judy Goodwin joined in by demonstrating how to call 911 on the classroom phone.
Barfield School Resource Officer Ward Bates coordinated with Goodwin and the teachers for Kirsch to teach 18 classes during the first day of the program last week. They distributed coloring sheets to place on home refrigerators, pencils and flyers to reinforce the message.
Kirsch reminded the students that if they dialed 911 by accident, they should stay on the line so the telecommunicator can make sure there is not an emergency. Otherwise, a deputy will be sent to the home to check for an emergency.
He asked 1st grade students if they knew their address so that emergency responders could reach them quickly during an emergency.
"If you don't know, go home and ask your mom," Kirsch said.
Six-year-old Mason Newcomb asked, "If you have a broken leg, do you call?"
Kirsch explained he should tell an adult. But if an adult isn't available, he should call 911.
Both Shew and Kirsch have answered numerous 911 calls from children who don't know what to say. They hope the program will allow children to remember when to call 911, what an emergency is and what their location is. By using scenarios, they hope the children will remember their message.
"If a child is truly scared, they need to call 911," Shew said. "If they can't get their parents in an emergency, they should call 911. We hope to break down barriers."