Retiree pushes fire-safety lessons
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer
HAWAI'I KAI Health and safety education has been Mike Topolinski's life.
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
Mike Topolinski and "Smokey Moki" show how smoke is harmful: As the smoke leaves Moki, it passes through cotton, turning it black.
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
It was 22 years ago when Topolinski, as a special employee of the state Department of Education, last went from school to school with Smokey Moki and the doll house where I.M. Careless lived on 2 Die St. These handmade props were shown to more than 100,000 students from 1976 to 1980 in 15-minute lessons, he said.
Two decades have tarnished Topolinski's props, but his message remains the same: Students need to learn about fire safety and they need to know they shouldn't smoke, said the Hawai'i Kai resident.
And he's on a crusade to bring his program or another to Hawai'i schools.
Hawai'i schools do not have formal fire safety or anti-smoking education programs. DOE officials say teachers work with fire departments on fire safety and include anti-smoking messages in health education. However, they acknowledge that there is no uniform anti-smoking education program for elementary schools.
Topolinski's program ended in 1980 because of budget constraints, but the Honolulu Fire Department never stopped providing fire safety education, said Deputy Fire Chief John Clark.
"We've always had a fire prevention program," Clark said. "Chief Mike's table-top demonstration had live fire. It was very dramatic and entertaining. (But) we replaced Chief Mike's program with another because we didn't feel it was getting the fire safety message across."
Each year firefighters drop off 153,000 copies of the Fire & Health Guide, an award-winning program geared to elementary students around the state. Firefighters work at bringing fire safety to low-income preschoolers through the Be Safe Fire Safety Program, and each year second-graders can get a chance to learn evacuation techniques, stop, drop and roll and 911 information from the Keiki Fire Safety House.
Each of these programs, however, is provided only upon request.
Topolinski said such programs should be required in all schools.
"Schools need to introduce the elements of fire into their curriculum in science class," Topolinski said. "They need to know oxygen, fuel and heat are the three elements of fire. This could protect their life. We teach kids about anatomy, but not about fire."
Topolinski says money from the Hawai'i Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund, created by the 1998 settlement of state litigation against the tobacco industry, should be used to provide anti-smoking programs.
Hawai'i is one of 16 states that have committed part of the tobacco settlement money for prevention programs. To date only four states have anti-smoking programs in place that meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nationwide initiative created to protect children from tobacco addiction founded in 1995. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Hawai'i spend between $10.8 million to $23.4 million a year to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Hawai'i spends $4.2 million a year for tobacco prevention.
"The tobacco funds are for programs of this kind," said Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Hawai'i Kai -Kahala). "We had anti-smoking programs before; we need the money to be used for either (Topolinski's) program or some others."
High school and middle school students are required to have one semester of anti-smoking education included in health or science classes, according to Dan Yahata, DOE education specialist for health and physical education.
The state Department of Health is spending $2.4 million on tobacco prevention programs targeting elementary to high school students, and it provides resources to educators on tobacco prevention and control, said Julian Lipsher, state coordinator of the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program.
But, "there's a need yet to be filled for smoking cessation programs for kids," Lipsher said. "They need to know how to quit and what happens when they're caught smoking or with tobacco on campus. There are lots of things that can be done."
Reach Suzanne Roig at 395-8831 or email@example.com.