- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

The right combination of oxygen, fuel and heat can be deadly. In fact, someone dies every 130 minutes in the United States from a fire-related injury. Children 5 and younger are twice as likely to be hurt, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Enter a multimedia company with a colorful character that has taken on the responsibility, with the help of the World Wide Web, of educating families about the importance of home fire safety.

Scottie's Firehouse

Site address: www.scottiesfirehouse.com

Creator

Twin Palms Productions Inc., located in Austin, Texas, established the site in March.

Creator quotable

"Scottie's Firehouse was created in an effort to educate the public, both children and adults, about the importance of home fire safety," says C. Scott Woodings, president of Twin Palms Productions Inc.

"I personally saw the effects of fire on a child who was severally burned and decided that something needed to be done in this country to reduce fire deaths, injuries and property loss. Through the use of an animated character, Scottie's Web site is the place for people of all ages to have fun learning all about fire safety."

Word from the Webwise

Looking like a young Wilford Brimley, Scottie in full firefighter regalia greets children who stop by the site and sets about ingraining fire safety messages. With assistance from Kittie the Cat, Scottie leads visitors through the sections "Color and Learn," "Did You Know?" "Scottie's Story Book," "History of Scottie," "Puzzles and Games," "Fire Safety Check List," "Scottie's Scrapbook" and "Art Gallery."

All are accessed by clicking between the rungs of a fire ladder on the left side of the opening page. Almost every section contains plenty of cartoony presentations with a Golden Book feel. For example, stop by "Scottie's Scrapbook" to see an oversized nine-page photo album highlighting characters in the firefighter's life, such as Harry Hydrant, the evil monster Fiery Flame and Johnny the Bully, who may never learn the dangers of playing with matches.

Move on to "Scottie's Story Book" for a colorful nine-page monograph featuring the origin of Kittie, more illustrations of the whole gang, and safety tips scattered throughout the text, including what to do if clothes catch on fire and how to maintain smoke alarms and get parents involved in protecting the home against fire.

Other sections catering to creative types range from "Color and Learn" and "Puzzles and Games," which give children some printable activities, to an "Art Gallery" that posts visitors' most imaginative works.

Ease of use

Although the message being espoused is great, the execution needs some work. Basically, pages extend beyond the reach of normal-size monitors. This becomes very annoying when at the top of the front page, Scottie should be standing next to a chalkboard reporting a serious message. This area cannot even be seen unless the page is fully pulled open, impossible on 15-inch monitors. Thankfully, all browsers will work with the site, and Mr. Woodings has kept the load times to a minimum even with the excess of illustrated images.

Don't miss

Junior fire-prevention inspectors should stop by the "Interactive House" to learn about identifying problems that could cause a fire in each room of the home. Just click on a room, then select areas that look like trouble. Problems could range from a full garbage can in the kitchen to overloaded outlets in the bedroom to improperly stored flammable items in the garage.

Family activity

The "Do-It-Yourself Fire Escape Plan" is an excellent challenge for the entire household. Scottie offers a step-by-step process with a printable blank grid to get started. The firefighter also reminds everyone never to return to a burning building, to pick a specific place to meet outside and always to try to stay close to the floor when exiting a burning building.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: A curious child will plow through the site in about 15 minutes and move on because of the lack of content. I am a little worried, however, that some of the concepts presented could be misunderstood or not understood by third- or fourth-graders, the site's target age group.

Mr. Woodings might want to have a "parents only" area and move some of the shocking statistics found in the "Did You Know?" section there to motivate mom and dad to make their home secure against fire.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is changing constantly. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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