This article originally ran in the July 28, 2019 edition of the Democrat and Chronicle.
by Caurie Putnam
When Dean Smith, 51, joined the Barnard Fire Department’s Explorer post as a teen in 1984, he had no idea he’d someday teach fire safety in the schools he attended.
“When I was in high school and you would have told me I’d be involved in fire safety I probably would have laughed at you,” said Dean, who graduated from Greece Olympia High School. “I would have said, ‘Just give me a hose.’ ”
Smith, who has been Barnard’s fire and life safety educator since 2001, was recently named the 2019 Fire Safety Educator of the Year by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. The award is given each year to an individual who has shown a strong dedication to fire safety and education within their community.
“He’s a very humble guy,” said Marsha Holland, of Westfield, Chautauqua County, chair of the Fire Prevention & Life Safety Committee for FASNY. “When I met him at the awards ceremony he said he felt as though he already won just in being nominated by his fire department.”
The committee was impressed by the volume of fire education Smith provides each year to Greece residents (ranging in age from pre-school to senior citizens), his dynamic and interactive lesson plans for classroom visits in the Greece Central School District and many excellent letters of recommendation, including from teachers at the schools he visits, Holland said.
Though Smith, who was also a professional firefighter with the Ridge Road Fire District for nearly three decades, can’t pinpoint why he decided to also volunteer as a fire educator, he’s happy he did.
“Firefighters working in education, prevention and code enforcement are fighting fires before they start,” said Smith, a lifelong Greece resident. “You are touching people in a positive way, empowering them and saving lives.”
Smith points to one story close to his heart to illustrate this. In the early 2000s he made a presentation in a small, special education classroom at English Village Elementary School. He wasn’t sure how much the students absorbed, but a few months later he was contacted by the family of one.
“There had been a fire at the family’s home and this student did what he had learned,” Smith said. “His grandmother said that during the fire he was calm, knew what to do and said, ‘Get on your hands and knees.’ I learned an important lesson that day that in fire safety you don’t always know who you’re impacting.”
Smith, who is also a graduate of Monroe Community College and Empire State College, retired in 2016 from the Ridge Road Fire District following a diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 2012. But, he’s busier than ever running fire presentation programs, visiting classrooms (where he’s affectionately known as Firefighter Dean) and providing community outreach and education on important topics like car-seat safety.
“Multiple sclerosis has impacted my life significantly and changed the way I do things, but it hasn’t stopped me from doing the things I love or helping others.”
Contact Caurie at caurie@urgrad .rochester.edu with news from west-side towns.