WINNIPEG – It’s been nearly eight years since Laura Johnson died, but her memory lives on through the dedication and persistence of Winnipeg firefighter Shane Ferguson.
Ferguson was on of the first on the scene to an early-morning fire that destroyed the five-year-old girl’s North End home. He and his partner found Laura hiding beneath her bed and rescued her from the flames, but tragically it was too late. She died later from smoke inhalation.
“You do rescues, you get people out, but those aren’t the ones that stay in your head,” says Ferguson, a 16-year veteran of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service. “It’s the ones that don’t make it. It’s something I’ll never forget..”
Having already been involved in talking to schools about fire safety for several years before Laura’s death, Ferguson became more committed to preventing the same thing from happening again. In a tribute to Laura’s memory, he created Staying Alive – a fire-safety program that teaches kids from kindergarten through to Grade 8 how to react in the event of a fire.
All too often, he says, children’s first instincts are to hide in a closet or under a bed, like Laura did, making it difficult for rescuers to find them and get them out safely. The program stresses the importance of having a home escape plan and teaches children fire-prevention strategies.
In 1999, Ferguson added to the safety program with the development of The Great Escape – an interactive computer game that complements the Staying Alive lessons. With the help of volunteers, supporters and sponsors, more than 60,000 copies of the game have been distributed to schools, fire departments and day-care centres across Canada. Another 10,000 have been circulated around the globe. The game is now available in Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico and every single U.S. state.
And the game’s success doesn’t look as though it is diminishing. Next week, Ferguson will travel to Montreal to launch the game in French. And it is now being translated into Spanish.
“More firefighters know what happens out there, and if we can prevent it from happening that’s a good thing,” says Ferguson, who was honoured with the Mayor’s Distinguished Firefighter of the Year Award in 2004 and the Kids’ Sake Award from Today’s Parent magazine in 2005 for his efforts in promoting fire safety.