Jewish Life Kolot

Kolot: Fighting fire at home

Firefighter Matthew Branschweiger and his daughter, Elaine.

Did you know that in the month of December the number of house fires in the United States rises exponentially? December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. Last December 13% of home candle fires began with decorations compared to 4% the rest of the year.

These frightening facts and many other provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) prompted Jewish firefighter and paramedic Matthew Braunshweiger to organize a day of Fire Safety at the Sigel Hebrew Academy in Bloomfield one Sunday om ;ate November, just prior to Chanukah.

“With Chanukah coming up — and Christmas for our non-Jewish neighbors– I thought it would be an important time to offer a comprehensive fire safety program for families in the community,” said Braunshweiger, who lives in West Hartford and works for the East Hartford fire department.

More than 100 children, with parents and grandparents in tow, attended the fun day of fire safety training at the Bloomfield school –joined by 20 firefighters from Avon, Bloomfield, Bristol, Chaplin, East Granby, East Hartford, Middletown and Westover Air Base in Chicopee.

Greeted by Sparky the Fire Dog from the Canton Fire Department, the children began the journey on a fire truck parked in front of the school. After touring the truck, participants moved on to practical hands-on exercises. Out on the playground the fire departments provided two fire safety escape houses. The children dressed up as firefighters, entered the houses made smokey with a simulated fire. They learned to “stop, drop and roll, learned exit drills for the home and what to do and not to do should they find themselves in a fire. For the smaller children, a fire truck bounce house was a popular “hot” spot.

“Fighting fires and fire prevention is really a Jewish thing,” said Braunschweiger, whose daughter Elaine is in the kindergarten at the Hebrew Academy. “You don’t meet too many Jewish fire fighters, but, I became a fire fighter and a paramedic based on the concept in Judaism ‘pikuach nefesh’ the obligation to take care of our fellow man. Saving a life is the most important thing you can do in Judaism. As a fire fighter and a paramedic, I am there for my fellow man –I know it sounds hokey, but that’s really how I feel about it.”

The day was such a huge success that Braunschweiger hope to hold a public safety event at the Hebrew Academy every year. “I’m already thinking for next year we could do a public safety program focused in a different arena. I’m definitely ready to get started on the next one!”

Ann Baidack Pava lives in West Hartford.

KOLOT is a feature of the Jewish Ledger in which reader are invited to submit original work on a topic of their choosing. Inquiries and/or submissions should be sent to

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