In a small room with very little space to maneuver, 7-year-old Xavier Moncado fought back smoke on Saturday morning as he looked for an exit.
“All I saw was brown-ness,” he said. “Then I thought the door opened and I hit my head on it.”
Fortunately for Moncado, who recounted his experience while slurping on a snow cone, he wasn’t in any actual danger. His plight was fully intentional.
Moncado was one of dozens of attendees at a disaster preparedness event hosted by the Lompoc Fire Department on Saturday at the Home Depot parking lot. The event, the first of what the LFD is hoping becomes an annual tradition, featured several interactive displays and demonstrations designed to highlight the importance of being prepared and preventing fire damage.
While the event was intended more for adults than children, according to Lompoc Fire Chief Kurt Latipow, areas were set up specifically for younger attendees, including a bounce house and the Vandenberg Air Force Base Fire Safety Trailer that Moncado and many other children navigated while learning about home fire hazards.
Moncado’s aunt Diana Grice, who also brought another nephew and niece, said she felt like Saturday’s expo, with it’s first-hand demonstrations, was particularly educational.
“They learn some stuff in school, but this is a little bit different than school,” she said. “There’s more going on and I think they absorb a little bit more.”
That same sentiment was expressed by Laurie Cox, who attended Saturday’s event with her two grandchildren, 8-year-old Isaac and 3-year-old Kyleigh.
“We wanted to come and bring the grandkids so that if in fact there is some kind of disaster, they’ll know what to do,” she said. “We may not always be with them if something happens. Whether they’re at school or somebody else’s house, we want them to know how to protect themselves and stay out of danger.”
It also helps the children get acquainted with the various first response teams, she added, which is also an important aspect.
“If something does happen and the fire truck does show up, or the police or ambulance, they’re not going to be afraid or terrified because they’ve already been through the learning process here,” Cox said. “I think this is very beneficial.”
Along with the areas for children, there were three separate mock house burns during the five-hour event, which stressed the Fire Department’s “Ready Set Go!” program.
That program is designed to teach homeowners how to create action plans to get their properties prepped and ready ahead of any potential wildfires. At this time of year, that is particularly critical, according to Latipow.
Among the organizations that participated in Saturday’s event were The American Red Cross, Aware and Prepare, Santa Barbara County Fire, Lompoc CERT, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Vandenberg Fire Department, the Fire Safe Council, The Gas Company, The Lompoc Fire Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service.
Latipow said that he would be using this year’s inaugural event as a test run for future expos. The attendance wasn’t as high as he would’ve liked — at least in the early going — “but that’s OK,” he said. “We’re getting positive feedback from the folks who are here.”