The Urbana Fire Division, in partnership with Urbana City Schools, has started a guest reading program where the division’s firefighters read to local school children.
Urbana Fire Chief Dean Ortlieb said the program is part of the division’s overall plan of investing time and energy with the community’s youngest members. One of Ortlieb’s goals is getting school children to know firefighters by name and to not be timid or shy when approaching them in an emergency or any other time they see them.
Ortlieb said a lot of credit for the program goes to Urbana Elementary School Counselor Gina Lingrell.
“We recently worked with Gina and the elementary school in helping to honor students who received the good citizen award,” Ortlieb said. “Division firefighters had breakfast with the award winners and it was our first chance to have a conversation with the kids. Since then we have had students come up to our members and say ‘hi.’ This is exactly what we want the division’s relationship to be with the community, approachable and friendly.”
Ortlieb added he wants the community to know that they are much more than a 911 emergency response system.
“Many of the division’s members live in the community and all our members want to support and help the community any way they can,” Ortlieb said. “The Urbana Fire Division has a civic responsibility to provide services to fight fires and save lives.
“We like to frontload many of these services through risk reduction programs that help our community live productive, independent, and safer lives. Almost nothing can be more devastating than a debilitating accident or a total loss fire. It is the division’s hope by engaging early with students we can over time build a healthy and safety mindset that might reduce the chances of needing our services down the road.”
During the first meeting with Lingrell, Ortlieb discussed the division’s willingness to become more involved with the school which started the school engagement. The parties have collaborated on several options.
“When she contacted the division recently, we asked her thoughts about us reading in the classroom,” Ortlieb said. “We were hoping to get a couple of classes this year and build on the program next year. Within a couple of hours, she contacted me and said there was overwhelming support for us to be guest readers to the students and she had 19 classrooms wanting to participate. We then knew we might have something good here.”
These feelings were reinforced later that evening when Ortlieb was talking with Urbana City Council President Marty Hess and he mentioned firefighters reading to students.
Ortlieb wants the reading program to be the first of many encounters with local students.
“We have another reading program this summer with the Champaign County Library, we have community involvement planned for First Responder Appreciation Day, and we also plan on having some interactive events with school-age children at the county fair,” Ortlieb said. “In addition to our children knowing our firefighters and becoming familiar with the fire division, it is our hope as they become working adults, they may find what a rewarding and satisfying career fighting fires and saving lives can be. How exciting would it be if one of our future firefighters said the reason they chose to work at the Urbana Fire Division is one of those earlier encounters with the division as they were growing up?”