Oct. 23, 2023 By Bill Parry
Elementary school students from P.S. 234 in Astoria were sworn in as junior firefighters and EMTs at the FDNY Fire Zone in Manhattan to kick off National Fire Prevention Week on Oct. 10.
FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh presented the children with the Chief William F. Feehan Fire Safety Education Award given annually to a New York City school that demonstrates ongoing commitment to fire safety education.
The youngsters were classmates of 7-year-old Elias Abdulsamed, who was tragically killed along with his 19-year-old sister Arwa, when their family home at 25-71 46th St. was turned into an inferno sparked by an exploding lithium-ion battery in April. They became trapped on the second floor as three siblings and their father escaped.
Elias attended P.S. 234Q The School of the Performing Arts and Technology and his sister had graduated from the school, so administrators believed the most meaningful thing they could do to commemorate the lives of their former students was educate their community about fire safety and do everything possible to prevent a tragedy like the fatal house fire from happening again.
P.S. 234Q Principal Dora Danner-Perry reached out to the FDNY Fire Safety Education Unit (FSEU), which resulted in nearly 20 classes presented to educators, students and their families. FSEU also brought along the FDNY Smokehouse, a roving teaching tool equipped with fog machines and a darkened hallway simulator, to drive home the importance of fire safety lessons.
“I commend the community at Public School 234Q The School of Performing Arts and Technology for prioritizing fire safety education and turning tragedy into a lifelong commitment to emergency preparedness,” Kavanagh said. “They showed tremendous resilience and are a model of the meaningful action we need to see in our city as we face the threat of improperly handled lithium-ion batteries.”
More than 400 students in pre-K through 5th grade attend the school and the community was determined to honor the lives of the Abdulsamed siblings. Organizers announced the FSEU visit in advance so members of student households had ample time to plan their attendance. They provided resources and materials ahead of the presentations and made efforts to integrate fire safety into their school’s culture.
“We wanted real buy-in. We put everything into it,” Danner-Perry said. “I think that we gave students a sense of comfort knowing that you’re not alone. Things can happen. You just have to be smart about it. You have to be proactive, and you have to be preventative.”
The award was named for Queens FDNY legend Chief William Feehan who died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center at age 71, making him the oldest and highest-ranking firefighters ever to die in the line of duty at the FDNY. Born in Long Island City in 1929, Feehan grew up in Jackson Heights.
“Today is one of our most important events because fire safety outreach is one of the main ways we keep people safe and reduce the number of serious fires we have in our city,” Kavanagh said. “This school is extraordinary. They quickly mobilize to help educate their community after an intense fire caused by lithium-ion batteries. For their efforts, they are receiving the Chief William Feehan Fire Safety Education Award, which goes to a city school that demonstrates an ongoing commitment to fire safety education.”
Prior to FSEU’s involvement at P.S. 234Q, many students and adults were not aware of what to do and how to properly react in a situation where there is fire or their life is in danger. By FSEU educating the youngsters as well as their families and teachers on how to be “FDNY Smart,” the community has planted seeds that will benefit them for many years to come.
“We walked away saying, ‘We definitely saved a life.’” Danner-Perry said. “We can’t say what life, but we saved a life.”