Habla Español? Firefighter teaches minorities fire safety

The phrase "stop, drop and roll" is drilled into most children from the moment they can speak.
Annie Zelm
Mar 20, 2011


The phrase "stop, drop and roll" is drilled into most children from the moment they can speak.

But "parar, caer, y rodar" is far less common.

That's something a Norwalk firefighter is working to change.

David Wallace, 46, taught children about fire safety for years, but he didn't realize how many in the Hispanic community weren't getting the message until he encountered a young girl who listened to his presentation with a puzzled look.

She had just moved to Norwalk and didn't speak English.

Hoping to help her and others, Wallace ordered 50 bilingual coloring books on fire prevention, thinking it would be more than enough to reach the Spanish-speaking children in the Norwalk schools.

A short time later, he ordered 250 more.

While meeting with the children, he soon discovered many of their parents never had fire safety training, and few had smoke detectors in their homes.

"We just take that for granted," said Wallace, a 16-year veteran of the fire department who recently won the Helping Our Neighbors Hero Award sponsored by the Firelands chapter of the American Red Cross.

Wallace knew he wanted to reach out to the Hispanic community. He just wasn't sure how to start.

He partnered with Jill Schafer, a community relations coordinator at Fisher-Titus Medical Center, to distribute coloring books and smoke detectors.

But he wanted to do more.

"We saw there was a real need for it," Schafer said. "They were so enthused with what he was telling them and asked great questions."

Schafer introduced him to Francisco Carrillo, a leader of the Hispanic community at St. Paul Church in Norwalk.

Carrillo helped coordinate the translation and recruited families for the first fire prevention class, hosted after Sunday church services in October 2009.

About 100 people attended, Wallace said.

He's since hosted several others.

The classes emphasize the importance of checking for fire hazards around the house, such as overloaded extension cords and candles, and teaches families to plan an escape route.

Norwalk fire also offers free smoke detectors, and families should check the batteries twice a year.

Wallace hopes to expand the program to other area churches and schools.

He's meeting with safety representatives who might use his program as a state-wide model, and he has encouraged other departments to start similar programs.

Sometimes, he's met with mixed reactions.

Many don't realize it's a problem, and others don't know how to begin helping -- or they tend to make assumptions about the Hispanic community, Wallace said.

Putting the program together gave Wallace a better understanding of what it must feel like to have an emergency amid unfamiliar surroundings, and not knowing what to do or how to ask for help.

"You realize these are just people with kids and families just like me, trying to make a living," Wallace said. "As much as this is a profession, it's also a mission to help people."




Stories like this don't go to show the need for bilingual safety materials. Instead they show the urgency any legal immigrant, regardless of mother tongue, must heed to learn English.

Road signs, some of which offer warnings, are in English. The directions to use various and sundry products are still mostly in English. And certainly the vast majority of Americans speak English seeing as that's the language that's spoken here. We've already made far too many concessions to those who want to live and work here, but who don't want to bother learning English. Why should I press "1" for English when that's the language we speak here, eh?

While I applaud Wallace for filling in a gap that obviously needs to be filled, I'm concerned that because he's ensuring the safety of children until they DO learn English, there will be still another excuse for those kids not to bother (the gods know too many of their parents already don't!).

Assimilate, or go home. After all, if I moved to some other country, I'm betting the entire population wouldn't be inclined to coddle ME, nor SHOULD they. It's their country. This one's ours. And don't think for a minute that this has anything to do with anything but assimilation, or that that isn't a good and necessary thing. The so-called Balkanization of America is going to do EXACTLY what it did for the Balkans a few years back, and do we REALLY want to go there here?

My Opinion is...

Other countries do coddle us - if you looked at the pictures of the train stations in Japan taken after the earthquake, you'll notice they're in Japanese and English. As someone who has been to several countries in Europe, most of the signs are in that country's language (we'll use German in Germany as an example) and English. Europeans have caught on that there are enough English-only speaking people wandering around that it's beneficial to both parties to have important sings (locations, warning, etc.) in both languages. When are we going to get over our arrogance in this country? The Statue of Liberty is inscribed with "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free". Nowhere on the Statue of Liberty or the Constitution does it state that you have speak flawless English upon stepping foot in this country. Yes, it is the official language and if you live here you should learn to speak it, but what you're suggesting implies that (keeping with the German example from before) if you were to go over to Germany you shouldn't be allowed inside the German border unless you can read, write and speak fluent German. If you were just visiting for a short time it's different than moving there permanently. I was there for about a week and I picked up some simple phrases to get me by, but if I chose to move there I would need to learn the language and that would take time. Your statement implies that people who have not yet mastered the language aren't worthy of the same safety lessons we learn as children. Here's another question - if you were to move your family to a different country, would you only speak that language from then on and never speak your native tongue ever again? Would you turn your back on every aspect of the culture you grew up in? Before you say it - I am against illegal immigration - but there are plenty of legal immigrants that would suffer from what you suggest. Before you start spouting off your arrogant American attitude, try a little empathy and think about walking a mile in the shoes of those who would be affected. I think what this guy is doing is fantastic and I wish a lot more people could have an open mind like him!


My Opinion,

I said nothing about visitors. I said people who want to LIVE here need to ASSIMILATE here.

100 years ago, immigrants did several things that too many aren't doing now:

1. They came here legally.

2. They assimilated.

3. They valued education above all.

I, too, have visited foreign countries. As a visitor, I learned a few polite phrases, but had time for little else. But when I actually LIVED overseas for a few months, I engaged in total language immersion and I spoke the language of the land fairly well before I left. I also honored the customs of the country rather than made any demands they honor MINE.

I don't insist you speak flawless English before you get here, nor do I demand you speak it instantly afterward. But you LEARN it, and you place an emphasis on learning it SOONER rather than later. If you intend to live as you did in your homeland—speaking the language, having the same holidays and customs, and demanding everyone else honor those things—then STAY HOME.

P.S. Oh, and one more thing I'm sure you'll also find a reason to disagree with: Come here LEGALLY, or face mandatory and permanent deportation.



Oops, forgot something important:

Many countries teach and speak English as a second language for one reason and one reason only: English is the international language of the sea and of the skies. It also happens to be the language of the world's only remaining superpower.

Hmmm...since so many countries DO teach English, now I REALLY wonder why it is we have to have paperwork in about a bazillion other languages other than English for these wanna-be-residents...


Sam , Products with instructions in other languages are provided because the products are most likely made in other countries or shipped world wide  so it make sense to cover multiple languages . Also , when people come to this country to live they may not have had the option of going to school growing up , so even if their country of origin taught English they may not have got the education . Besides most of our ancestors off the boat probably weren't that educated either . If you go further back into our past you will also see that the first white men that came here pretty much invaded , conquered , raped and pillaged America . Time to take off the rose colored glasses .


Years ago at my friends house (Friday evening) , a carload of Mexicans got pulled over by the city police.    We heard the officer vaguely speak to the driver, who stated: " No speak-a- english."  The officer by the pulled over vehicle spoke to his companion officer who was behind the car in question & said, "Call the station, we will take them there & hold them over the week-end until the interpetor arrives on Monday."      Promptly a voice from the carload of Mexicans yelled, "Sir I speak a little bit."

Just Thinkin

Teach them English that will serve them better , I am tired of spending my tax money on signs for them How much money is spent across America to help the MEXICANS,I do not care if they live here but by God learn English

no planb

For safety sake, good, too many die in fires each year, now also teach them to change the batteries in the smoke detector. I think if you are going to live and function in America, then you should learn English. Yep, everyone came from somewhere I know. Most of the people who built this country, regardless of where they came from, were proud to be Americans. Most ,like my ancestors worked like dogs, they held onto their traditions and learned to be Americans, they did not see this as a direct extension of "their" country, but as America, as they learned English, many tried to hide their accents. I do not see this pride today. When I was in Texas, most any manager or supervisor positions required you to speak Spanish also, that I have a problem with. I was also in Virginia at a time when people rioted in DC demanding more Spanish speaking officers and teachers. Our language is English, want to live here, learn it. I too have been been overseas, I do not become upset  when someone can not understand me, I tried the best I could to communicate in their language, I did not expect them to accommodate me, sometimes it just takes a little effort, and less of wanting things handed to you.What about mexican truck drivers being able to drive further into the US, though they are susposed to be able to understand English, it is documented many cant. I am reminded of a bumper sticker, "Welcome to America, we speak English"


Nichts wirklich wichtigies, keine groBe Sache. Ja!                                                          No es un gran problema.                     1 out of 6.


Congratulations to Mr. Dave Wallace! He is doing a great job with the Fire Prevention for the city of Norwalk and he is now growing his prevention to hispanics. This should be helpful to the ones who do not speak spanish! We should not comment on how they need to learn english if they want to come to america, this whole article is not about bashing hispanics. This article is about how he is trying to reach those who do not speak english the basic fire safety rules. I hope he goes on farther with this idea and gets help out to those who need it! He is doing a wonderful job so far and I wish him the best of luck!