Summit County’s Jessy Dorton knows how to respond if there’s a fire, and he wants to share his fire safety knowledge with the community
A lifelong interest in fire safety has made Jessy somewhat of an expert on fire extinguishers among his peers at Summit High School
Do you know how to keep yourself and your family safe in case of a fire? Summit County graduate Jessy Dorton does — and he’d be more than happy to share his fire safety knowledge with anyone who asks.
After graduating with the class of 2022, Jessy has continued his education at Summit High School through the district’s transition program that allows students with special needs to build social and life skills through age 21. Ever since elementary school, he has had a deep interest in fire safety — and fire extinguishers in particular.
“We want to keep people safe,” Jessy said. “And that’s what we do. Keep people safe.”
Since 2020, Jessy has helped with fire drills and completed monthly inspections of fire extinguishers at the school. On Thursday, May 18, the school and local fire agencies hosted a special ceremony to thank Jessy for his work, allowing him to deploy several fire extinguishers on an active fire in a burn barrel behind the school.
“That really made my day,” Jessy said as a smile spread across his face.
Surrounded by friends, school employees and fire officials, Jessy wore a firefighter’s protective gear, complete with the signature firefighter helmet, as he sprayed the extinguishers on the flames.
“‘P’ you pull the pin out, and it breaks the seal,” Jessy said. “‘A’ is for ‘Aim at the base.’ You squeeze the handle, and then you sweep at the base, not the flame. That’s what you do. So the acronym is PASS: Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep.”
Now, Jessy said, he’s prepared if there is ever a real life situation where he might have to use a fire extinguisher.
“Grab the nearest one and — boom! I’m going to be right on it,” he said.
Jessy — who is also involved with the Special Olympics and is a strong athlete in skiing, track, bowling and golf — has been deeply interested in fire safety and fire extinguishers for most of his life, according to his grandfather, Chris Dorton.
At home, Jessy has a collection of about 20 fire extinguishers and, almost no matter where he goes, he’s on the lookout to make sure the fire extinguishers are up to date and in working order, Dorton said. Once, Jessy found an expired extinguisher at the middle school and, another time on a vacation, he discovered an empty fire extinguisher at a hotel that the local fire inspector had just inspected, his grandfather said.
“He’s got a sharp eye,” Dorton said, adding, “People on the spectrum often have grand obsessions.”
Dorton noted the Netflix series “Atypical,” a heartfelt comedy that follows Sam, a teenager on the autism spectrum who has decided he is ready for romance. In the TV show, Sam’s obsession is penguins, Dorton said. For Jessy, it is fire extinguishers and fire safety.
Kelly Finley, a counselor at the high school, said that as students returned to the classroom after the COVID-19 pandemic, Jessy was apprehensive about coming back and wanted to make sure that everything was safe. So the school got him involved with Brandon Smith, the district’s safety and security manager.
“He absolutely can tell you everything you need to know about fire safety,” Finley said. “How to use a fire extinguisher properly. How to evacuate properly. How to have a plan. He could be a spokesperson for Red, White & Blue or Summit Fire (& EMS).”
Every month, Jessy would inspect the fire extinguishers at the high school with Smith. Since December, Jessy has taken on more responsibility and has started inspecting the fire extinguishers himself. He even gets to pull the fire alarm during fire drills.
“He’s my safety buddy for sure. It’s been a lot of fun,” Smith said. “This year, I kind of gave him the freedom when he has time in school to check (extinguishers) on his own, and then I come by and take a look. He does a great job. He does it exactly as it should be. Checks everything all the time. Sometimes he checks them twice.”
Summit County Sheriff’s Office School resource officer Patrick Finley said, “Jessy is awesome.”
“He’s such a visible presence in the school. He’s such a great, likeable person. He loves to talk with us, and he educates me on fire extinguishers,” Finley said.
“Hopefully we can build a relationship between Summit Fire and Red, White & Blue so that when he does get out of school, they can find him something that he can help out with,” he added.
After a day deploying fire extinguishers, riding in an ambulance and a fire truck, and showing off his fire safety skills in front of his friends and peers, Jessy said he now wants to share his knowledge of fire safety with the community.
Every home should be equipped with smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms and home fire extinguishers, according to Red, White & Blue Fire Inspector Will Newton. As Jessy will tell anyone who asks, Class ABC fire extinguishers are best for at home.
Those portable fire extinguishers work well when the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing, Newtown said. Extinguishers should be used once everyone else has left the building, the fire department has been called and only if the room is not filled with smoke, he said.
Jessy added that it is important to know where the nearest fire extinguisher is and for families to have an escape plan and designated meeting area outside the house that everyone knows.
“If it’s a real life situation — you have a little fire and you need to use (an extinguisher),” Jessy said. “You would have someone call 911, pull the fire alarm and then I would have adult supervision with me using the extinguisher.”
But fire extinguishers can only do so much, so it is important to get out early if the flames get too big, Jessy said. Keep fire extinguishers close to an exit and keep your back to a clear exit while deploying it for an easy escape, if the fire cannot be controlled.
“If the fire is too big, you would close the door behind you, get everyone out safely,” Jessy added, “then still call 911 and have someone activate the alarm system and let’s get out of there.”
It’s best to know how to use a fire extinguisher ahead of time, in order to be prepared to use it in an emergency, Jessy said. Every year, families should review their fire plans, test fire alarms and check that fire extinguishers are up to date and in working condition, he said.
But the most important thing is always to stay safe, Jessy said. If fire alarms are going off, he said, “You just get out.”
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