Chautauqua Children’s Safety Education Village

By Marsha Holland, FASNY Fire Prevention and Life Safety Committee

“What I see I may forget, what I hear I may not remember, but what I do, I understand.” This is the motto and main focus for the Children’s Safety Education Village located in Ashville, New York, in beautiful Chautauqua County.

An aerial view of the Chautauqua Children’s Safety Education Village.

In 1996, members from the Sertoma Club of Jamestown visited the Waterloo Safety Village in Canada. It so impressed them that they brought the idea back home and approached Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace. After looking into the details of the village, he was very impressed and was determined to develop something similar for the children of Chautauqua County.

Local business owners formed a board which then became a 501(c)(3) organization. The members met every Thursday
morning for many years and the village began to take shape. A five-acre piece of property next to the Hewes Educational Facility in Ashville became the site for the project. A total of 26 concrete slabs were poured, measuring 12 by 24 feet, roads were formed between the slabs and sidewalks came later.

Organizations started buying into the project and sites were purchased for $5,000 each, with each organization erecting their own building on their site. The Chautauqua County Fire Chiefs Association and the Fire Advisory Board spent many hours building a fire hall on one of the sites. Inside the fire hall is a
handmade fire engine built by the Kennedy Fire Department. All 26 sites have been purchased and an additional site was added later for Jamestown Community College.

The Chautauqua Children’s Safety Education Village (CCSEV) became a reality with its buildings, paved roads, sidewalks, street signs, a railroad crossing, street lights and a four-way traffic signal. In 2009, the organization received a $1.76 million federal grant through the Transportation Enhancement Program. The rant was used to build the educational building and a storage facility that houses 50 electric cars, 50 bicycles and the “Safety Village Express” train. The educational building consists of two, 35-student classrooms, handicapped-accessible restrooms and office space.

The first classes began in October 2010. In the first three years, more than 10,000 children have attended classes and gone through the village’s various programs. Each school district in Chautauqua County sends at least one class each year. There are two instructors who are paid for each two-hour class. A part-time groundskeeper takes care of the lawns, fixes buildings when necessary, makes sure the electric cars are charged and cleans the classrooms. There is also a group of volunteers that helps with the fundraisers.

Children get ready to demonstrate bicycle safety at the CCSEV.
Children get ready to demonstrate bicycle safety at the CCSEV.

The success of classes taken at the CCSEV has been demonstrated by children at various times throughout the county. Some have approached firefighters out in the public to show how they feel the back of a door, to tell where their family’s meeting place is and to tell what they would do in case of a fire. They learn not only by seeing and hearing, but mostly by experiencing the lessons learned. Handson learning works very well! For example, instructors teach the rules of the road for bicycle safety inside the educational building, and then the students go outside to the village and demonstrate what they have learned. Another example is a fire escape plan inside the classroom using simulated smoke, feeling a heated door, using an escape ladder and then going to the meeting place and not going back in the makeshift house.

The CCSEV has also been used by home schools from Yorkshire, New York, to Meadville, Pennsylvania. Youth groups, scouts and summer camps also take advantage of the Village to teach the proper use fire extinguishers and fire hoses.

To keep the CCSEV running, fundraising, donations and grants are a must! Volunteers have helped annually with an Easter Carnival, trick-or-treating inside the village for young children, a “Town of Terror” for teens and adults and the sale of calendars.

Businesses can also sponsor portions of the village. The fire departments and residents of Chautauqua County feel
very privileged and blessed to have such an amazing educational “tool” available to our communities. Although this type of safety village is common in Canada, there are less than 20 in the entire United States and Chautauqua County has the only one of its kind in New York State.

This story appears in the November/December edition of The Volunteer Firefighter magazine, just one of many benefits of FASNY membership.