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Staying Alive

Popular Winnipeg-developed children’s fire safety program by Firefighter Shane Ferguson has been translated into French, Spanish for wider distribution.

December 7, 2007 

14The Staying Alive Fire Safety Program's animated children's fire safety game, "The Great Escape," is a game like no other. It is intended to teach children between the ages of three years and 10 how to get out of their homes safely when a smoke alarm sounds. In the six years that the interactive CD has been available, more than 70,000 copies have been distributed to fire departments, schools and daycares worldwide. And this year, for the first time, the CD is available in French and Spanish editions.

The Staying Alive program and the CD were created by Winnipeg fire fighter Shane Ferguson as a memorial tribute to a little girl by the name of Laura Johnson. The five-year-old died in a house fire in 1998. Ferguson was among the first responders in the scene and he found the little girl's body under the bed.

She died of smoke inhalation.

‘Little did I know the impact Laura's death would have on my life,' Ferguson said in an interview with Fire Fighting In Canada.


Ferguson has been a City of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service fire fighter and a public educator in fire prevention for 15 years. He has a such a special interest in teaching children about fire safety – a passion really, that he has been giving extra classroom presentations on fire safety and awareness in Winnipeg classrooms — on his own time – for many years.

Ferguson was spurred by Laura Johnson's death to take action. In November 1999 he persuaded the Winnipeg outlet of a national retail chain to join the fire department in a fire awareness promotion that included a "home escape plan" contest.

 The contest ballots featured several different household floor plans. Entrants had to complete family escape plans and bring them into the store on Nov. 20 of that year to have them reviewed by fire fighters.

"The response was amazing," Ferguson recalls. "Over 4,000 individuals and families participated." The non-profit Staying Alive program – more of which can be found on his website – evolved from that event.

Ferguson notes that "The Great Escape" game and interactive CD were developed through the financial support of the Winnipeg Fire Fighters Burn Fund. That organization contributed $50,000 in seed money and Ferguson singles out the Burn Fund's founder Gary Macdonald as a key supporter. Another huge contributor, The Co-operators Insurance Co., has put in about $130,000 to pay for distribution of the CD.

The CD begins with a cartoon featuring a lobster in bed awakened by a fire alarm.

"In real life, when a fire starts, you just have one choice in responding," Ferguson says. "In our game, kids playing the game have two choices each step of the way."

The script and the character's voice was provided by Jeff Derraugh, a Winnipeg fire fighter who used to be a disc jockey, The graphics were provided by Man Lab Internet. In addition to the game, the CD includes a top ten list – a favourite of late night television host David Letterman — of fire safety measures, songs by leading children's entertainers, colouring pages, word searches and modules for use by teachers and fire departments.

"The reason we did a CD is because there are a lot of areas — in the far north, for example – that don't have access to high speed internet," Ferguson says.

Ferguson notes that the toughest part about translating the CD and program into French was finding a translator. "My wife and children are fluent in French, but I can't speak it."

The translation was done by Winnipeg fire fighter Andre Couture who is originally from Quebec. Ferguson's 15-year-old daughter, Meagan, provided the voice for one of the characters in the French translation. The French version was tested at L'Ecole Lacerte, a French language school in southeast Winnipeg.

Ferguson and Couture launched the game in Quebec in Montreal in mid-February, with additional stops in Ottawa and the Gatineau region.

Ferguson has received several awards for his fire safety educational efforts. They include the Mayor's Distinguished Firefighter of the Year Award in 2004 and a second place finish that same year in the International Association of Fire Fighters IAFF Media Awards Competition Best Affiliate PR Campaign. Last year, Today's Parent magazine recognized Ferguson with a Kids' Sake Award in the "Lifesaver" category.

"I have been fortunate that there have been a lot of good people who have seen the benefit of this program and have been prepared to help out," Ferguson says.

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