LIBERTY, Maine — Early Monday morning, little Kylie Johnson woke up to the insistent sound of a smoke alarm and found that her house was filling up with smoke.
It’s the kind of wake-up call that could send anyone into a panic, especially an 8-year-old. But Kylie had learned about fire prevention and safety earlier this month during a presentation at the Walker Memorial School, and she remembered what to do.
“I woke up my momma because I saw the fire,” Kylie, a sweet-voiced third-grader, said Friday. Kylie then dropped low, away from the rising smoke — just like the Liberty Fire Department firefighters had told her during Fire Prevention Week.
“That’s what I did,” she said. “I crawled all the way to the door.”
She and her mother, Margaret Johnson, made it outside safely and called for help.
“Kylie stayed extremely calm,” Johnson said. “Much calmer than I was. She was telling me to get down low to the floor. She’s a great little girl.”
That’s just what Fire Chief Bill Gillespie of the Liberty Fire Department thought when he had a chance to check in with Kylie and her mom after extinguishing the electrical fire at the Johnson’s Boynton Road home.
“Kylie made it a point to tell me that she remembered what we told them to do in fire prevention class,” he said. “She’s an amazing little girl. I’m very proud of her and we were very moved.”
He was so proud, in fact, that he and the other firefighters decided that they wanted to do something special for Kylie.
On Wednesday, they gave her a certificate of appreciation at her elementary school, and also presented her with two stuffed animals that do not smell like smoke.
“One was a bear and one was a fire dog,” Kylie said. “I named the fire dog Smoky.”
According to Johnson, the firefighters’ presentation was a big surprise.
“She was pretty stunned,” she said of Kylie. “She’s very, very proud of it. She received a plaque from them and read it about 50 times on that first day.”
Gillespie said that Kylie’s experience shows how important it is to emphasize Fire Prevention Week at school. Years ago, he spent half a day in the school, teaching each class what to do in case of fire.
“This year, we got 40 minutes total for the entire school,” he said. “The kids are interested and excited. They want to ask questions. The moral of the story is that the program works.”
The firefighters teach the kids how important it is to have a designated family meeting spot and evacuation plan. They also talk about cooking safety and put on their oxygen masks and crawl around the floor at school to encourage children not to be afraid of firefighters or hide if they are inside a burning house.
“In that 20 minutes, we squeeze in quite a bit,” Gillespie said.
Johnson also emphasized the importance of learning about fire safety at school.
“I think it should definitely be taught,” she said. “It’s not something you think about all the time. You always think it’s not going to happen to you, like I always thought. But I thank God she did learn that in school. She was able to stay calm, and I think that having that taught in school helped dramatically.”
The fire has changed some things for Kylie and her mom, who are living with Johnson’s mother in China until their smoke-damaged home is cleaned up.
But not everything is different. Kylie said that she still wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up — not a firefighter.
“It was scary,” she said.