WINNIPEG – Petra Johnson faced a difficult question seven years ago as she woke to the sound of a blaring smoke detector and a foggy blackness wafting through her home.

As she and her husband David ran down the third storey stairs to try to get everyone out, she tried in vain to remember where her four children were.

“A lot of people don’t understand what it’s like. It’s like having a bunch of tires on fire in your house,” said Petra, describing the thickness and stench of the smoke that can very quickly disorient a person in a house fire.

Petra and David Johnson were the parents of Laura Johnson, the little girl who died in a house fire in 1998 that inspired Winnipeg firefighter Shane Ferguson, along with the creative energies of firefighter Jeff Derraugh and musician Mitch Dorge, to create the Staying Alive initiative.

Staying Alive en français

 Students at Ecole Lacerte have given the French version of Staying Alive two thumbs up.

The kindergarten to Grade 8 students were introduced to the fire safety initiative last week as Winnipeg firefighters Shane Ferguson and Andre Couture prepared to take the French version on the road for an eastern Canada launch.

Staying Alive is a not-for-profit fire prevention initiative.

It was born after the 1998 house fire in which Ferguson played a part in the rescuing five-year-old Laura Johnson, who died two days later from smoke inhalation.

Since the girl’s death, Ferguson has been determined to reach as many young children as possible.

And now with help from his French-speaking buddies, Ferguson is hoping to break through the language barriers.

“It’s exciting. The Winnipeg kick-off was great,” said Ferguson, saying the purpose of the game is to remind kids of basic fire safety messages every time they play.

“Fire safety is more than just one week a year. You have to keep reminding them.”

After the St. Vital firefighter was featured in Today’s Parents magazine for receiving a For Kids’ Sake award in October for his efforts surrounding Staying Alive, Ferguson was contacted by a fellow For Kids’ Sake award recipient, Jake Shtern.

Shtern invited Ferguson to Montreal to share the fire prevention and dafety message there.

Armed with the interactive computer game, The Great Escape, which was translated to La Grand Evasion, Ferguson and Couture introduced it as home last week at Ecole Lacerte.

“It’s well made. I like that they give you various scenarios and choices. (The game) shows you how each choice works out. It’s a little young for my age group but it would be really good for younger kids and little kids with their parents,” said Grade 8 student Mikael Wsiaki.

Two students from each grade were selected to participate in the press conference and launch.

From there the students took the copies of the games back to their classrooms and presented to their class.

“I think others my age would like to play. It’s fun and it teaches you a lot about fire safety,” said Grade 4 Emilie Ferguson.

Emilie said the game was refreshing because it wasn’t just Sparky the Fire Dog, with the usual message.

“I think it’s cool and it’s nice to have different things other than just always the dog,” she said of the Fire lobster, Louis the Firefly, Flip the Fire Monkey, and Mrs. Aboutfire.

To play the Staying Alive game in either language, visit the website at

Photo clip: Ecole Lacerte grade 4 student Amelie Bauch plays La Grande Evasion.Article courtesy The Lance, Transcontinental Weeklies.