Students embrace Hug A Tree winter safety plan |

Students embrace Hug A Tree winter safety plan

Anyone driving past Zephyr Cove Elementary school Monday afternoon might have been surprised to see fire trucks in the parking lot.

They might also have seen 36 Sorrel-shod, snowsuit-clad third-graders crouching around in the snow, building mock shelters and crossing their skis.

It was clearly not an average school day, but there was a good reason behind all the fun.

Kevin Hanna, engineer at Zephyr Cove Fire Station and public education organizer at Zephyr Cove Elementary, and four firefighters, taught second- and third-graders winter safety and survival skills during the annual Hug A Tree outdoor session at the school.

“We try to gear it to their age level. They need to know enough not to wander once they’re lost, how to make signals and what clothing to wear before they go out,” Hanna said. “It’s really important because almost 90 percent of them are skiers and could get lost when they get out of bounds at some point.”

The children learned life-saving tips about shelter, signaling and observation.

“We learned that you can live under a tree for a few days,” said third-grader Mitch Williams. “You just have to protect yourself and stay dry.”

Warm, water-resistant clothing is a key starting point.

“What you buy doesn’t have to be the most expensive brand names,” Hanna told the children. “It just has to be the right material so you’re dry and warm.”

Firefighter Mark Novak suggested students carry a rolled-up plastic garbage bag for protection against wind and moisture.

“You can make a head hole and arm holes and it’ll keep you water-proof if you have to sleep outside in the snow,” Novak said. “By leaving your house prepared, you’re already increasing your chances of survival.”

He also suggested parents outfit their children with silver space blankets, which cost about $1 and are available in most supermarket camping sections.

Other safety tips discussed at the annual event include: shelter options, how to get out of the wind, how to leave signals “by making yourself big,” what to pack before leaving the house and how to remain aware of location and weather conditions at all times.

Most importantly, the young survivalists learned that they could be active agents in saving their own lives.

“When you get lost, there are a lot of important things you have to do so that you can get found,” said Branden Rickman, 8. “You won’t freeze if you’re careful.”

Things to know about survival:

STOP is not just a road sign, and the three W’s don’t just refer to good interviewing techniques.

S stands for: stop right where you are if you get lost.

T stands for: think about what you have to do to take care of yourself.

O stands for: observe where you are and where to find the best protection.

P stands for: plan what to do next to best protect yourself.

Where: always leave a note, or tell someone, where you’re going.

When: always mention when you’ll be back.

Who: always tell someone who you are out with.

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