“Fire Science Guy” educates middle schools about their “fun”

(TNS) – Rick Freier, a fire investigator who has worked with the Spokane Valley firefighters since 1999, assessed Cristine Lapke’s seventh grade science class students on Wednesday and looked them in the eye.

Summer is around the corner which means more children will be at home and it may be tempting to play with fire.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I know this age group (10 to 14) is responsible for a lot of fires,” Freier told a class at Centennial Middle School.


Freier let it come, then asked if anyone had younger siblings at home.

Half of the 15 students raised their hand. Freier told them about a 3-year-old boy from Spokane Valley who was badly burned after an instant lighter accident.

Their attention completely fixed, Freier continued his presentation. It was in equal parts science, entertainment, and a call for social responsibility from its audience, a reminder that firefighters do more than just fight fires.

Freier’s presentation is part of Forensic Fire Investigation 101, a departmental program recognized nationally for its unique and innovative approach to solving the problem of fires caused by young people. Students learned about the effects of oxygen on flames, the ability of a kitchen hob to burn metal, and the risks of teenagers’ curiosity when it comes to matches.

“He really knows how to get students involved,” said Lapke of Freier, known in the industry as “The Fire Science Guy.” “The other part is that he supports science and reduces it to terms they can understand.”

Spokane firefighter and fire investigator Rick Freier, center, talks to “investigators” Millie Hutchins, left, and Axel Cannon, 13, right, about footprint identification in a classroom of middle school students at Centennial Middle School on Wednesday, June 1, 2022 in Spokane Valley, Washington. Freier developed and taught a class for middle school students that combines fire science, fire safety, and fire investigation. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesperson-Review)

The program also included a presentation by Patrick Erickson, Spokane Regional Emergency Communications’ head of communications and regional.

Erickson opened with a pop quiz: How many emergency services calls do you think are made in Spokane County each year?

The highest guess – 100,000 – wasn’t even close.

“It’s actually about 300,000,” Erickson said.

After confirming that nearly every student in the room had cell phones, Erickson talked about his most critical asset: the ability to call 911 and potentially save a life.

Then he put them in place. Erickson asked them to imagine being stranded at home during a raid, then told them they can also text 911 for help.

Students were also reminded of the importance of communicating their location, including addresses, cross streets and landmarks.

From there Freier took over with the main event: an investigation into the causes of a recent house fire.

It opened with another Spokane Valley true story: about a boy on a bicycle who had just reported a house fire.

The house was a total loss.

After an investigation, Freier observed burn marks on the boy’s shoes and backpack, and the boy confessed to accidentally starting it.

With a little nudge, the students looked at a large photo of a burnt-out living room and were finally able to “solve” the case.

After the first of three shows on Wednesday morning, Freier said he hopes it will make a difference.

“I’m really tired of fighting,” he said. “It’s their choice. They are getting older; they have to realize that the decisions they make have consequences.”

© 2022 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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