One sunny Saturday morning last month, when 4-year-old twins Kade and Bella Jones normally would have been outside playing, they were inside a large garage-like building watching a grown man play with a toy farm tractor, grain auger and little dolls. He also made steam shoot out the side of a hot dog on a copper stick.
The twins and their mom, Lacey Jones, joined a handful of kids of all ages and adults for the Culver Young Farmers Ag Safety Day at North Central Co-op’s facility east of Plymouth. Sponsored in part by Marshall County REMC, the event featured safety demonstrations on electricity, grain entrapment, pets and farm animals, household chemicals, farm equipment and anhydrous ammonia.
“My son still talks about the hot dog and the grain entrapment,” Lacey said several days later. She said he explained it all to his dad, Michael, later that day. She said the REMC’s tabletop electric display was just right for her youngsters who could relate to the toys and see the danger of the arcs and sparks.
“I’m giving them every opportunity to participate in safety demonstrations,” Lacey said of her kids who are growing up on the family’s small rural Rochester farm. “That’s my big role as a mom: to make sure my kids know safety comes first.”
October is National Cooperative Month. Member education is one of the seven guiding principles of any cooperative business. So, part of any electric cooperative’s educational outreach is making sure consumers — children especially — understand the electric service that permeates our lives also can take our lives if we are careless or misuse it. Just like Lacey Jones and moms everywhere, co-ops want consumers to know safety does come first.
Each of the 38 not-for-profit, consumer-owned distribution electric cooperatives (REMCs/RECs) serving Hoosiers, along with their two generation and transmission cooperatives, are involved in safety education and programming in many different ways. It’s ingrained in the cooperative culture.
Many of the state’s co-ops participate jointly in the Touchstone Energy Camp in early June each year for students who have just completed sixth grade. That three-day overnight camp involves not just regular summer camp activities, but it includes electrical safety and education, too. (Sixth graders and parents, look for information about applying for the 2016 camp after the first of the year.)
Co-ops also have created their own school safety programs and work with other ag and community groups on what seems to be a growing trend — safety days that involve multiple organizations.
“We take safety very seriously,” said Mark Arnold, president and CEO of Jay County REMC. “We want to make sure that our employees go home to their families every night. We also believe that safety is a key component of cooperative principle # 7: Concern for Community.
We know it is our duty to educate our community on the importance of electrical safety and how to stay safe around power lines. One of the best ways to share that message is by doing school safety programs.”
Jay County REMC for many years has had a national award-winning program in place that educates first graders about electrical safety and what an REMC is. The Portland-based co-op is now expanding on that program by taking it into an engineering class at South Adams High School.
“For that class, we talk about the changes in technology not only electrically, but we discuss heat pumps as well,” said Cindy Denney, Jay County REMC’s director of marketing and customer services.
Daviess-Martin County REMC, headquartered in Loogootee, was part of an electrical safety demo at the Martin County Farm Fair in August — just as schools reconvened. Sponsored by the Martin County Soil and Water Conservation District, the fair welcomed about 100 fourth grade students from Martin County schools.
The farm fair presented a dozen different stations — turkeys, popcorn, 4-H, dairy, Say No to Drugs, electrical safety, forestry, ATV/tractor safety and more. The students were divided into small groups of about 12 which visited each station.
“Electricity is a dynamic power source. We live our lives surrounded by it, but sometimes we forget just how dangerous electricity can be,” said Dave Sutter, Daviess-Martin County REMC general manager. “Many home electrical fires, injuries and electrocutions can be prevented when we understand and practice electrical safety. This is especially true for our youngest co-op members.”
He said the REMC engages youngsters with interactive electrical safety demonstrations to school groups throughout the year. “We believe what they learn from us today can be a lifesaver later when they are tempted to climb up a utility pole, encounter potential hazards like downed power lines in their path, or play hide-and-seek behind those big metal electrical boxes in the neighborhood.”
Kosciusko REMC, based in Warsaw, participated in a “Safety First” event that hosted 1,600 fifth graders from Kosciusko and Elkhart county schools, Sept. 9-11. Hands-on sessions focused on disability awareness, first aid, grain entrapment, water and lawn equipment safety and the importance of safety around electricity.
Students rotated through the sessions and learned how to properly clean and bandage a wound, how to react if someone was engulfed in grain, the importance of life jackets and more. They watched a live line demo with sparks flying as they learned how to stay safe around electricity and electrical equipment. Kosciusko REMC sponsored a live line demonstration for the students (and also hosted a demo for first responders). This led up to Kosciusko REMC’s big Family Safety Day in Warsaw, Saturday, Sept. 12.
“Basically, we had a safety week,” noted Katy Berger, Kosciusko REMC communications specialist.
A big safety shindig
Perhaps the granddaddy of all safety events is the one Kosciusko REMC has been helping sponsor for seven years.
Family Safety Day (please see sidebar) at Warsaw’s Central Park attracted an estimated 4,500 people for the one-day Saturday event. The annual event brings together a smorgasbord of first responders and folks from a wide variety of health, safety and public service organizations for a meet and greet. A whole host of educational and fun programs and demonstrations are offered to raise public awareness for everything the groups do in the community.
The REMC offered bucket truck rides at the event. And while the spin up through the crisp, late summer air was mostly fun, the kids are also a captive audience when up in the buckets with the linemen. “The guys talk to the kids about staying away from downed lines and also what it is like to be a lineman,” noted Berger. “This year, we had one boy get back in the long line four or five times to ride in the bucket. Each time he came up he said he wanted to be a lineman.”
For 7-year-old Vivian Heckaman, whose family home in Claypool is served by Kosciusko REMC, being a lineman may not be high on her “bucket list” — at least right now. “When they first asked me if I was scared — on a scale of 1 to 10 — I told them I was an 11 in scaredness,” she said.
But with her feet safely back on the ground, she and sisters, Elizabeth, 10, and Ruth, 9, who rode with her, seemed no worse for the wear — or scare — from going so high in the air.
Back over in Plymouth that same morning, Fulton County REMC consumer Lacey Jones noted the safety programs help illustrate and emphasize what they try to teach their kids. She and her husband can tell their twins or even their 9-year-old daughter, Olivia, that some things are dangerous, but when they can see the sparks and see the danger during a demonstration like the REMCs provide, it lets them understand. “It gives them knowledge,” she said. “They have a better appreciation of it — without scaring them.”
And Jones echoes what most folks say to the adults and organizations presenting the programs: “I do appreciate everyone giving up their time,” she said. “It helps keep my kids safe.”
Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Electric Consumer.