Following home fire disasters that took the lives of young children, the Kankakee Fire Department deployed an age-old tactic to improve the likelihood that effective fire safety messages would get into the home – free food.
Since 2017, the department has been hosting successful parties featuring America’s favorite food: pizza. Kankakee Fire Captain Mike Casagrande explains how it came to be.
“It took us some time to figure out the best path to get there,” he says. “First, there was the December 26, 2015 home fire death of a child. We wondered how it was that this little girl, who recently went through her school’s fire prevention program, didn’t survive. Why didn’t the safety messages work at home?”
In 2016, three more children died in fires. The department also reviewed those tragedies to better understand what happened. In each case, they realized the children’s parents were lacking key fire safety facts that could have made a difference. “Our review confirmed how important the actions of the adults are in a fire,” Captain Casagrande said. “We recognized that adults will typically be a main factor in the decision to exit a home, and we needed to do more to get basic fire safety information to them.”
But how to reach the parents was an ongoing challenge. “I recalled a time when my son entered to win a pizza party at his school,” said Captain Casagrande. “He was insistent that I do what I needed to do as his parent for the assignment so he could participate. He didn’t want to miss out on the pizza! Food is a motivator for a lot of things and pizza is something kids love.”
Captain Casagrande’s experience with his own son led to the creation of a pizza party contest as part of the Kankakee Department’s fire safety education. They partnered with local companies to make the party a success. “Domino’s offered to provide all the pizzas we needed, the Pepsi distribution center in town donated their products, and Jewel Osco provided napkins, plates and cookies,” Captain Casagrande said. “These donors provided everything we needed to hold fire safety education parties for more than 1,700 children in Grades K-3 in the school district.”
To qualify to win a pizza party, each class was required to bring home the fire safety education which they were instructed to work with their parents. We found not every family would work with their child and developed “pizza challenge game” only five children were not able to have parents involved out of the 1,700, The 2018 theme was Look, Listen & Learn and Have a Plan. The educational materials included Sparky the Fire Dog’s to do list with four fire safety lessons:
1. Know two ways out
2. Know how to get out, even if doors are locked
3. Know what to do if it is not safe to exit through the main exit
4. Know where the family meeting location is
The students and parents were asked to sign the checklist, demonstrating that they had worked on the educational activity together. One hundred percent classroom participation and completion of the checklist was required for the class to win a pizza party.
“I’m happy to report we’ve had full participation the last two years,” Captain Casagrande says. “This is one way we can get home fire safety basics to both children and adults. Our entire engine company hopes this at-home component of fire safety education will make a difference the next time a family experiences a fire.”

For additional information about this program, feel free to contact:
Captain Michael D. Casagrande
Fire Prevention Division
Kankakee Fire Department
(815) 933-0479
[email protected]