NORTH BENNINGTON -- Fire calls are up this year, but calls to fires started by children are at zero.

Students at The Village School of North Bennington and Bennington Elementary learned in separate events what to do in case of fire

Village School of North Bennington

An annual tradition when Fire Prevention Week begs the reminder, members of the North Bennington Fire Department visited students at The Village School of North Bennington, giving grades K-6 a chance to climb up into the fire trucks, ask questions and practice fire safety drills.

"We've been doing this a long time but they all love it, it's like they look forward to seeing us," said firefighter Stephen Gorman Jr., who has been a volunteer in the department for 15 years.

Full of questions relating to water hoses, boot size and sirens, most children want to know one thing.

"They ask us how old they have to be to join," said Capt. Joe Brown.

Junior members are sometimes allowed, but aspiring adult firefighters must wait until age 18.

While most students know to call 9-1-1, first responders take the opportunity to show them what it looks like when a firefighter is fully dressed in their gear.

"We don't want them to be afraid when they see us come into their home in an emergency," said Asst. Chief Ed Harrington.

With over 25 years in the department, Harrington said fire calls this year have increased by at least 10 compared with the same time last year, but stressed that most are due to heavy storms and include electrical and chimney fires rather than house fires set by children at play.

"I haven't seen a situation where a child was playing with fire or matches in a very long time," said Harrington.

Bennington Elementary

First graders from Bennington Elementary were excited to visit the Bennington Fire Department this week, where they also climbed in the trucks and asked questions, as well as being given a behind-the-scenes tour.

Volunteer firefighters Kelli Prentiss, 19, and Mike Walczak, 26, geared up on Tuesday and showed students how to help first responders find them amid smoke or fire.

Walczak engaged 15 members of Jodie Hudson's first grade class by letting them pass around helmets, jackets and other equipment, and practiced a scenario where a child might be hiding under a bed or in a closet at the time of an emergency.

Hudson said she appreciated having both a man and a woman firefighter teaching the children. "It's really great to show the kids both."

Seeing many of the same faces from last year, Walczak, said, "We had them tell us what to do if there's an emergency, and they remembered."

This is Walczak's second year in the department, following six years spent on the rescue squad. Prentiss joined as a junior member five years ago, after seeing her father's dedication to fighting fires.

"I think they learn a lot when they come here," said Prentiss. "They learn how to be safe and to not be afraid." Shouting out "Stop, Drop, Roll!" the students left wearing plastic fire helmets and carrying goody bags as a ‘thank you' for visiting. They also had homework - to remind their families to designate a safe spot, and practice meeting up outside their homes.

"I really wanted to try the fire hoses," said one first grader, as they lined up to cross the street. Maybe next year.

Contact Khynna at kkuprian@benningtonbanner.com and follow her on Twitter @khynnakat.