The Olathe Fire Department does more than just extinguish flames, and its major focus on safety in the community is now bringing accolades.
Safe Kids Kansas gave its 2012 Service Recognition Award to Olathe’s Capt. Mike Hall, and its Outstanding Partnership for Child Safety Award to the Olathe Fire Department and the Kansas Sports Concussion Partnership.
Another award recipient was KidsAndCars.org, which was recognized with the Outstanding Coalition Organization award. Kids and Cars is a Leawood-based nonprofit that focuses on safety in and around cars, such as preventing backover and hyperthermia deaths.
Hall, who is also president of the Fire Education Association of Kansas, said that both his individual award and the department’s award were a complete surprise.
Although he often arranges awards to give to other people, he doesn’t often find himself in the spotlight.
“To actually have someone recommend me and the work we’ve done — it’s very humbling,” he said.
One of the biggest programs he works on is the Helmet Head Bike Rodeo, an event where the Fire Department partners with Olathe Medical Center and many community sponsors to distribute free bicycle helmets to kids 15 and younger.
“Part of my role is to find the folks in the community that will sponsor free bike helmets,” Hall said.
The six-year-old program, which originated with an idea from now retired Battalion Chief Ken Keiter, distributed about 1,000 helmets last year, Hall said.
Hall attributes his success to a strong community within the department and said many great concepts come from colleagues like Keiter.
“We’ve been trying to make the community a safe place to live for everyone for years. All the things I’ve been tied with, I’ve had a lot of good help and good people with good ideas. It’s a team effort,” Hall said.
According Safe Kids Kansas State Director Cherie Sage, Hall’s work on this safety effort and the Y-FIRE fire setter-intervention program was a major reason why they chose Hall for the honor. The fire setter program works to prevent children from starting fires.
“We thank him for his commitment to child safety and look forward to many more years of successful partnership,” Sage said.
Safe Kids’ recognition of the department focused more on its efforts to educate the public about the proper use of seatbelts and car seats.
“They have gone above and beyond to offer Fire Department resources and support for the child passenger safety program, including providing training space for Buckle Up events and a variety of safety workshops for early childhood educators, day care providers, parents and caregivers,” Sage said.
The department provides free space for Safe Kids to conduct community classes on how to install car seats correctly and on other related topics. This fits in with its focus on prevention.
“If we can prevent that injury from happening or that fire from happening, we would love to help them,” Hall said. “We’d like to see them before the emergency, but if we can’t prevent it we’re happy to help when the time comes.”
The department responds to more than 9,000 emergency calls each year.
The topic of seatbelts is especially important to Hall. He started as a volunteer with the Fort Scott Fire Department in 1993 after seeing how emergency responders helped his brother, then-18, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury after being ejected from a car in an accident. His brother had not been wearing a seatbelt.
Hall said that every time he interacts with the public, whether it’s at a chamber of commerce event or a structured program, he takes the opportunity to spread the message about prevention. Two of the topics he addresses the most are checking smoke detectors and making sure kids are using bicycle helmets.