Yesterday marked another first in my time teaching in South Korea: my first fire drill! Fire drills are a critical part of education in every part of the world, insofar as incineration is among the least desirable outcomes for students. With my classroom situated on the third floor of an entirely wooden (and not entirely up on its maintainence) building, I was glad to know my kids were learning important survival skills.
I went through a fair number of fire drills as a substitute teacher back in America (one wonders if there’s a statistical correlation between drills and teacher sick days), and of course I trudged through more than a dozen in my own student days. But on the morning of, I didn’t really know what to expect. Korea is always full of surprises.
This being a kindergarten, the “drill” began in our (very flammable) gym with a safety presentation by an officer from the Uijeongbu fire department. It was all in Korean, so I don’t know what he said, exactly. But there were a couple of animations featuring a fire safety mascot of indeterminate animal species. It was pretty easy to follow that.
Incidentally, they dial “119” for emergencies here in Korea. I should probably remember that so I don’t waste time in a crisis.
The drill itself came later, mercifully without the obnoxious klaxon call I’d been brought up to associate with pretending to be in mortal danger. We brought our classes downstairs, put on their outdoor shoes, and marched into the adjacent parking lot. But there was no lamely standing in rows for us!
Inside this truck, the firefighter guided four kids at a time through what I can only imagine to be a carnival haunted house-esque obstacle course, simulating an escape from an infernal housefire. And there was smoke: lots and lots of smoke.
Were the children scared? Oh yes. Most of it was the giggling sort of nervousness associated with roller coasters and high dives. A few of the kids shed copious tears the moment they saw the smoke; another few broke down before they saw it, either from the rumor or the memory of the year before. At least one scuttled down the steps after taking a good look inside.
My own class did a great job. Selina in particular was nervous before we started, but quickly got caught up in the excitement. Dolphin Class is made up of second year kids (Korean age 6, western age 5 or so), so I guess you can say they were old pros at staring into the maw of death. It takes more than the back of a smoke-filled truck to make Dolphin Class back down!
In America, some might view the act of making a child crawl through a smoky van that’s been made to look like the burning ruins of their home or school as traumatizing. But they do a lot of weird stuff in America, so who knows? I personally would have loved to crawl around in their myself, as curious as I was.