The Colorado Springs Fire Department does so much more than fight fires! Typically fire related calls are only one percent of CSFD call responses. Jen and Ted speak with Sunny Smaldino, Safety Educator for CSFD’s Division of the Fire Marshal, about preventative measures for fire and general safe behavior. While we try to educate, we also want you to laugh, so hear some funny stories from students that Sunny has met over the years of educating the youth in Colorado Springs!
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in the midst of a major wildfire or when there's a house fire. That's maybe most commonly when you think of the Colorado Springs fire department.
But Jen, our fire department employees do so much more.
so true. They educate, they talk about prevention. They're constantly looking at the best ways to meet the needs of our growing population. And we're lucky enough to have sunny, Smaldino with us for kind of a bigger picture of all that's happening at Colorado Springs fire. Sunny, thanks for being with us.
Thank you for having me.
And you're with community education and outreach. Um, that's sort of the, um, division of the fire marshals, what you told me. So I think people maybe don't even know what that is or what that means.
Absolutely it is. We're one of those behind the scenes groups that works for the fire department. We have about 45 50 employees just depending on where we're at in our staffing levels. Um, but on that side, our goal is to stop an emergency from happening in your building and your home outside when you're out and about. And it's all about community risk reduction and all different kinds of ways. So our fire department is, is large. We have a large area to cover. We have 22 fire stations. The newest is up North on that Voyager to support all of that new growth that we're seeing up North. And that is great. We just graduated 16 new firefighters. So we have about 500 firefighters, right. Sign a new firefighter.
That is back to the sound effects game.
That's good to hear that. I love it.
It is. And we're really happy for them. It's a, it's a pretty intense process. So looking forward to seeing all those new ones that come on board next year. Uh, we are getting eight new firefighters. That's very exciting to be able to continue to support our community in that way. They are all within those 22 stations, so that's kind of where we're at right now. Um, we've got a bunch of different new things coming for next year on all different sides to support the community and really enhance our service delivery and make sure that we're helping all of those that are truly having their worst day. Um, we've got a lot of different divisions through the fire department that again, most people, they see the big red truck going on and they just think that we're going to a fire. But really most of what we do is not fire related. We had almost 70,000 calls for service here in the, uh, out of those 22 stations, which is a lot of, a lot of calls. It's a significant impact, uh, on the nine one one system. But most of those calls we saw were medical in nature. Only 1% of what we run on is fire.
Well, and do you think, is that the first off, is your department the sort of forgotten about thing that the fire department does, the fire Marshall and then also talk about [inaudible] two part question. I'll talk about your department as well as that medical response side of things.
Absolutely. So what we look at is from the education and outreach team, where are the calls coming from? Why are we getting so many calls? Is it at a specific address, a specific type of business or a neighborhood or area of town. And so that is really what my team is tasked with is to look at those high impact areas or places and kind of work with them and say, what's happening here? Why are we calling nine one one 320 times in one year? How can we help you? How can we educate you? How can we provide you the resources or services that you may need to start lowering that demand for, for that emergency response?
And that helps you, um, in terms of a department. But that helps our community. Absolutely. Our goal is that that nine one one call never happens, that people are taking care of themselves, that people are driving safely. We have a lot of traffic accidents as spoke to by our police department. Um, it's just a huge problem. Lots of pedestrian issues, people on bikes, not wearing helmets. There's a lot of things that we have to look at and go, what are the trends that we have to keep in mind that's going to impact our first responders that may put them in danger. Um, they may be at a high hazard building that we haven't been able to inspect in many years and we need to make sure that they're aware of those high hazard buildings. So if they have an incident there, they know how to, you know, make their decision making when they're fighting that fire if something just happened there.
Now you're talking about firefighters, but can you tell us a little bit about your own, uh, path to joining the department? You're not a sworn firefighter, but um, tell us how you kind of got involved.
Yeah. I never thought I'd work for a fire department. That was my husband's thing. I've been married to a firefighter for 22 years. He's been here for the color Springs fire department as a captain now. And it never seemed like it was my path,
What was the original dream>.
My path was in marketing and branding so.
We love you can help a market and brand this podcast.
Yeah. So I never really saw that, but when I moved out here and didn't know anybody, I wanted to, you know, volunteer and help. So I volunteered at the fallen firefighter Memorial the first year I was here 22 years ago and I met a lot of really amazing people, not only in our community, but all of the families that had lost somebody. And so it just kind of opened my eyes to go, man, those, those firefighters shouldn't have died, that that widow should still have their spouse. And that was senseless of why they passed away. And that could have been prevented. A simple thing could have been prevented, uh, to save that person's life. They went in and risk their lives because someone made a mistake. Um, and so those are those things that really drove me to go, this is more of a higher purpose. Um, it gives a little bit more meaning to the work you do every day to make sure that all of our, the people that we love are safe and our community safe and my kids have their dad coming home when they, he gets off shifts. So that really is important to me and it kind of keeps me motivated to make sure that we are out doing it no matter how little or how much we can do a little bit makes a difference.
And there are a lot of folks like you who are civilian support for the fire department. That's really critical.
It is. There's a lot of us that, um, are working toward that initiative to keep our community safe and our firefighters safe, our police officers safe everybody there. Um, we have about 50 civilian employees on our, uh, prevention side and we just have a wide variety of [inaudible] tasks.
So I think sometimes people think of, Oh yeah, I got it. I heard about stop, drop and roll in elementary school. And I'm good. And it's kind of like, you know, you don't just go to the youngest folks in our society, right? You're looking at different demographics, like you said, businesses, different age groups, different areas of town and what do they specifically need to know? Right?
Yeah. And I think when we grew up, what we knew of fire prevention was the firefighters coming into our classroom and showing us how they looked and not to be scared of them. If your clothes catch on fire, you need to stop, drop and roll. We pounded that into our heads is our generation. But this new generation is really, we have, we've learned those messages. We're not on fire very often. Thank God. So we're not using stop, drop and roll as much as we probably thought we should when we were a little. Um, so we're really trying to encourage a different generation of learning and changing behavior.
What are the more likely scenarios, right?
How to get out of an emergency. Either do I need to stay in and be safe away from a harm that's happening outside or do I need to get out cause something's happening inside my home or where I'm at? And it's just very interesting. We always talk to our, our people that we're working with on emergency planning and say, why is it that we stopped practicing when we become adults? Think of how many times your kids do a fire drill at school. It has to be every month or in school it's required. So they're doing a drill every month. Every year they're in school. And we think that the hundreds of times they do it, they know exactly what to do. They can tell the substitute exactly what they need to do if it's not their normal teacher. But then we go home and they go home and they don't know what their plan is. And so that is one of those things that we have to continue to push in businesses. And as you get older and it doesn't stop because we're grownups and we think we know what to do, you continually have to start or continue education.
What's your plan in your own home right now? I mean I'm asking the people listening. What's your plan in your home right now and then what's your plan at work? Start thanking people. I know you don't have a bland, no, I'm sure some people do, but the majority of folks probably either they don't or they haven't talked it in awhile. Um, and especially at work, you know, you may go through the motions of a fire drill once in a blue moon, but nobody takes it really seriously so that when there is an emergency, you're right, there is more panic.
There is, and it's amazing to see how people will react in an emergency, especially if they're not familiar with their game plan. It's muscle memory cause some people just shut down and they just depend on their, you know, somewhere in their brain they're going to remember how to move their feet in, motivate out. But knowing where to go for that is one of those things that most people aren't quite aware of. And I think a lot of families at home don't practice cause they think, Oh my kids are too young. I don't want to wake them up in the middle of the night. Um Oh that's just silly. I'll grab them and, and run out or we're on a second floor so I'm going to have to go up and get them. Sometimes that's not always, you can't do it. Um, so those are things that we're just trying to, you know, those very minimal requests of our community just start taking care of themselves. Cause you know, especially when we're, we're very, very busy department, we need you guys to take that time to practice so we're not having to, you know, put people at risk that, you know, they could've got out but they just chose not to. A lot of times when you go out to the businesses though, are you spending some time with them on preventative measures? Are there, they're probably welcoming the advice I would think they really are. And I think I'm just getting people who are designated in charge of a building is really key. Then working with them on the plan and then doing a fire drill or having that discussion. We do about five part process with all of our places that we're working with, really to evaluate how they did and provide them feedback. Do it again and make sure we didn't, you know, mess it up again. And you know, some people just roll their eyes like, Oh, I'm too busy to do this. I don't want to get off the conference call. I don't want to, you know, take time out of my day or it's cold outside or let's just go get coffee. But when you think about it is your personal safety. And so we're asking everybody to just, you know, play the five minute drill, participate, do it at home, think about how it really would be tragic if you could have done something and you, and you didn't do it on the front end.
Well, I think you're hitting on a why you got into this line of business. You want to prevent these things from happening. Tell people that might not fully understand what the fire Marshall's office does, what you guys are doing. I know you were just discussing, uh, going out and talking with businesses, but there's the inspection aspect side of things and how can some of these fires be prevented because of what your office is doing?
Yeah, so we in the division fire Marshall, we've got a few units, um, ones that are um, kind of the unknowns. There's, unless you live on the West side, we have a wildfire mitigation unit that is really working with the neighborhood chipping the large projects to keep that wildfire risk down. That's a whole team that really is, is desperately needed to continue the work. We can't just do it for a little while and then stop. It has to be a continued thing because things grow back. We've got an inspections team for existing buildings in town. Um, and they also, those same inspectors are our arson investigators. So those, they have a dual role and so they will go out and they'll be on call and they'll go and they have to investigate a fire and they have to get up in the morning and go inspect buildings.
Speaker 1: (12:15)
And so they have kind of a dual purpose. All of our new construction, that's all the stuff come in and out of the ground. We have a team that works with regional building and they are the ones that are making sure that everything out of the ground is coming up in a fire safe way. Checking the sprinkler systems and the and all of those different detects smoke detection systems, the fire alarm systems, the panels, all the stuff you don't see around very often.
Cause I was just going to mention all the things that you're like, Oh that's great you're doing that. Well it is great because you're the person that's going into that facility and you want to be safe.
You want to make sure that we are not repeating history that has ended in tragedy. Correct. So we're taking all of the things that we've learned across the country and in the, and for quite frankly in the world of different building types and constructions and making sure that we don't have that happen here in our community. That we don't have materials that are deemed not safe being put up in buildings. And that's where our fire inspectors are really a key element to that. Um, we have a dedicated marijuana inspector to make sure that our marijuana grows are being done in a fire safe way and all the extraction equipment is up to code. And, um, we have a school inspector to make sure our schools are safe, uh, that they're meeting the fire code too. So there's, there's some unique things that we all are out there doing. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's, you know, hitting anyone's radar and unless you, you're the person that meets with us and walks around your, your place.
I do want to talk about just the sheer size of our city and how large we are and the growth when we come back after a quick break.
Is that more of those, uh, you mentioned marijuana businesses and whatnot, but there's some other interesting businesses popping up. So we'll talk about that as well and how you guys sometimes have to kinda learn on the fly.
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Alright, so let's, uh, talk about um, how large the city is. Am I correct in saying 194 square miles or is that correct?
It is. Okay. We mutual aid to all of our surrounding areas if they need our assistance, if they're, you know, having a, they're a bad day and we'll come up and help around and it's,
so we're so spread out, which is why we've seen all the headlines and articles about how we're going to become the largest city in Colorado, which is true because we just, yeah, we really are a large spread out city. And you said 22 fire stations serving right now. And so that's a lot of ground to cover.
It really is, right? With limited resources, our resources aren't changing. They're all there. We kind of have our stations established and we're just really trying to watch what those trends are. Banning Lewis is coming on board and that's going to be a huge boom. The whole North end is growing and developing. So we anticipate those North end stations being much busier than they are now. And then we have to look at what is driving the call volume and then that's where my team gets to jump in and go, wow, that's something we haven't seen before. That's new. Uh, so we're really kind of trying to keep our eye on what those trending things are. Right now. We've got a lot of distilleries coming in, which is great for the community. They're fun, it's changing. Um, but the technology that they use to distill the alcohols is something that's a little bit risky. So we want to make sure that our hazmat inspectors are keeping up with the new equipment that's being produced to support the distilleries and we have to learn all of that. So there's a learning curve when all these things start changing and the trends start coming on board and we're, we don't have a business license, so we don't know what kind of business it is until they put in a permit to make some, some changes to the space that they're going into. Or we'll hear about that, a concerned person or patron, then we'll find out, Oh my gosh, we need to check that out because that's something we haven't seen before. What is,
I mean, you've been doing this how long?
So you've seen probably a lot of changes, right? It's constantly changing what you're having to work with,
right. And the marijuana laws changing, right? I'm coming on board and then how we don't have recreational here. So we have a law that a lot of large grows, but then there's also the hemp grows and there's extraction facilities. And so we're really having to be very proficient in, you know, all of the things that are coming around. And then the new types of construction that are being built. And you know, there's new buildings coming on that are still, you know, they're prototypes for companies that they never built a building like it. So we're trying to figure out how do we, how do we look at this and make sure that it's meeting the standards in which we feel we can keep everybody safe in.
And I know, I know she can't say this head, but you and I can't, I mean how great that our fire department has a whole division devoted to more than just people think of the fire Marshall coming in and saying, you need to do this better, but really innovative ways to, you know, grow with our city and accommodate the growth, accommodate the new businesses and people thinking ahead of the curve whenever possible of how do we, how do we deal with it?
Education and outreach. Your, your position. Uh, it's not only, like you said the fire Marshall, you got to do it this way. It's a, it's the education aspect of it. Teaching people what they should be doing. We were just talking about the growth, uh, square miles of the city, but it's growing upwards now and these buildings are popping up all over the place. Like you were saying, uh, marijuana distilleries, uh, you guys seem like you have to be masters of all these different types of businesses and then like you were, uh, you know, I want, I want to highlight, you might not know exactly what's going in there unless somebody complains about it or there's a, a new document filed because they want to make some changes to the building. Uh, what are some of those other kind of chemical businesses that you guys are seeing? It seems like there's a lot of these businesses that are, that are now popping up that are a little bit different than, than just a decade ago.
One of the most interesting ones was the cryo spas. The ones that, um, you basically get in and you get rural like hold, but they, they use all kinds of different, they use the gasses. So we want to make sure that we're in there making sure there's proper ventilation and that the doors can't just be a solid door, that they have some louver to them. So there's unique things that come on board that are new and great, but you know, if you're a fan of going in and getting frozen and, um, rehabbing your body that way and not my thing. I like to be warm all the time and I'm happy with the way I am to stay warm as vine. But I really do think that those are unique things that we needed to learn about. Why are safe ways to do that, which is they're not at a risk. It's just we want to make sure that they're in the right kind of building, that they have the right kind of system to keep everybody safe, including the employees and the owners that run that. That's that particular type of a business. And that's just one of many different types of things that we see that come on board and they're unique and different. And, um, we want to make sure that we're not, we're not staying, we want to be ahead of it and not always behind it. So our job and prevention is to be proactive. Whereas our operational side is that reactive side, the reacting to an emergency or trying to to look at ahead and go what, what is coming down the pike. And our aging population is something we are really um, watching. Um, there's a lot of independent and assisted livings really cater to those older adults and um, uh, baby boomers are getting down there to make an making that, that transition to either stay home and age in place or there's a lot of home healthcare coming onboard. And then there's also locations, tons of apartments and a lot of them are catered to the older adults,
either independent living or assisted living and assisted.
Please keep in mind is just that it's just assisted in the fire code. It means to us that they're capable of self preservation and may need minimal assistance or full-scale nursing's when you can't care for yourself at all and that you cannot get out of your bed or you can't, you have to have help to do all that. So we're really kind of watching those generational changes coming into our community.
cause you're getting a lot of emergent emergency calls from those.
Absolutely. Yeah. Because there is clearly there's going to be a higher level of, of, of need, um, when you put a lot of people who have more vulnerability, uh, so we will always be running on those. We want to make sure that we are, people are in the right place for the part, the stage of life that they're in, so that they can be healthy and happy and, and functional and have the assistance that they need and it isn't waiting for us to come, you know? Um,
and that's probably a, an issue you've always had to deal with. It's just the population is growing, correct.
The amounts are, yes. We can't keep up with all that. So, right. We're looking at sustainable models. How does it work? How can we use education and prevention to slow that pace of calls coming in? So if we can work with the people living in apartment complex is not just an older adults, but all of our younger families and, and people that are here working and growing our community. Um, how can we keep them safer too so that we aren't having to show up, um, because they, they didn't know or you know, the burden.
Well, I think you're hitting on with the senior aspect side of things. It's a misnomer by people as they're putting their, their loved ones into assisted living thinking that, um, there's extra medical treatment that might be happening. And a lot of times they're actually calling the fire department to help out with some of these smaller issues. Just like lifting somebody that might've fallen. Um, but I guess our PSA would be, uh, make sure you're looking into these places that you're putting your loved ones. And, uh, yeah, I know exactly what they're doing because I don't think, we're not trying to say that these assisted living places are lying about what they're doing or anything. Um, yeah, just know the exact service that they're providing. And if that's correct for, uh, for your loved one. I also want to hit on as well. Um, I know you are always trying to be proactive, but in the reactive side of things, maybe not an emergency yet, but let's say you see something fishy going on maybe at a warehouse or, or even a house near you. Uh, what should somebody do if you, if you maybe have an inkling that there might be some sort of illegal business or some sort of just, uh, you know, danger. It might just be somebody brewing something in their, uh, in their garage that's totally legal, but you see fumes and you think, ah, maybe they're not doing that. Totally.
Yeah, you can. If it's something that you're really uneasy about, it's calling for four, four, 7,000. If you think it's a true threat, that's nine one, one. Um, and then you can always call the fire department. That's three, eight, five, five, nine, five. Oh. And they will get you to the appropriate person who would handle something that we can look into. Is it us? So is it code enforcement? Is it, you know, how, how is it going to play out? One thing we always ask everybody to look for is locked in blocked exits. We've learned far too many times in our history of just people dying in fires because they couldn't get out cause a, an exit was blocked. Um, and that's really one of the, that's our, our line in the sand. We're, we'll work with you to a point, but if you have a crowbar through that, you know, that much we can do, we're not going to let that one fly and nor should our community. That truly is that. That's a, a huge risk. So, um, we want to always make sure people can get out of buildings that is in may, we can keep them from getting in or we want to make sure everything is still get out.
One big thing. I know you had mentioned that never changes, um, that you've always dealt with. I know, um, our, our sin cases. So talk about what your division does in terms of working with, with those cases.
Yeah. Actually most of our arts in cases are caused by youth. So anyone under the age of 18 and state of Colorado and any child over the age of 10 can be ticketed, um, for a felony charge. Uh, and that is kind of hard to stomach if you're a parent and you have a 10 year old and you're looking at him so innocent and, and cute and thinking, Oh my gosh, they could actually have a, a true felony charge because they made a mistake. And so our team works as you fires that are intervention specialists to work with the families who have a child that has set a fire either in a school. And most of our kids do that at school cause it's when they're away from their, their family.
Um, and actually the overload, what's happening here, I want people to know.
we just got five more referrals. Uh, and that just happened in a week. So within a week's time we had five unique cases that came in, uh, of kids that are, were misusing fire. And we use the word misuse cause playing isn't what they're doing. They're doing it either intentionally or they're angry. Um, so they are truly making a choice to do something that is not necessarily correct or right in a can put a lot of people in danger. Um, so we, we work with those families. Uh, we provide them access to mental health if they're in need of that and we provide them additional education on fire safety. We have a course that the kids come to and um, they, it's a point where they can acknowledge what they did and then move on from there and really look toward their future so that their mistakes aren't, aren't impacting their future.
And speaking of our youth, let's end on a positive note because we do have a lot of youth who you said you reach out to and are really interested in hearing what you all have to say in terms of prevention and learning. Do what age do you, is it second grade, third grade or is it all different ages? Yeah. Who are you where?
We have programs specific to kindergarten and second grade and we do that in the spring. And then we have, I'm a fourth grade STEM program, which is all about wildfire science and how fire spreads and works. And then our sixth grade program is all about the things that uh, our sixth graders are starting to come into, which is seeing everything on YouTube and that virtual fire, which we call is what you see on your games and on the movies and all of that fun stuff. Uh, and then we also talk about the consequences if they make risk taking behavior. Things like starting fires. And we do talk about the consequences of their actions because they're getting at that age where we see the highest at age group is our highest level of fire setting, uh, happening with the kids. And so we want to make sure that they are understanding that. And the cool part is when we launched our sixth grade program in 2011 we had over 200 referrals into our art department for kids setting fires over the house. Over the last eight years. We've dropped that down and now we're about 65. So we've really seen a direct correlation from the education component to the behavior and that's really our goal is to watch this behavior change and kids understanding that there's consequence to action, um, specifically when it comes to fire in our community. But they're great. We have a great time out there. [inaudible] you're hear more entertaining. It's entertaining every day.
Yeah. What are, what are some of the, we've been discussing funny questions that kids will ask us as we go out to schools or schools come to us. What are, I'm sure there's some, some great stories of what kids have said to you guys.
Yeah, we are. I'll start with our second graders. We always, we do a pedestrian thing of how to, they're starting to maybe walk to school with their parent or their siblings and we always ask them what is the most dangerous time to cross the street? And we had a young one racist hand very anxiously and he shouted out happy hour. Um, so, you know, made us laugh a lot, not wrong [inaudible] and everybody, it is around that time, the four to five o'clock when the sun is going down and his sons in our eyes and the glare and he was right. Um, but believing are at high risk. So, and then our sixth grade program, we just had this because star Wars is coming out next month. And so we have a clip in there about the virtual fire of how they use their behind the scenes, the virtual fire that they create on their CG screens and stuff. And you know, we said, Oh, isn't it nice our firefighters wish they had a switch to just turn off the fire? And then the kid raised his hand, he's like, but they do. Or like how it's like, duh, the fours, we were laughing at your star Wars, he's a total star Wars fan. Love him. It was great. So we get to see that. So that, that is the fun part of, of the, the other side of the coin where, you know, we really hope that they take those lessons and really remember those moments that can change, you know, the trajectory of where they're headed.
I was just going to say, you're having such an impact.
Well that's like a 70% thing. Like I was, you know, going from 200 to 65 ish. Um, and then, uh, I think just for parents listening and what, or something in that age group that is vulnerable. Obviously you guys can only get to so many of those kids. Um, are there some signs that parents can be looking out for and then how can they maybe curb some of these signs that they're seeing?
Speaker 1: (29:27)
Well, if they see any signs of interest in fire setting, they're watching a ton of stuff on YouTube, which is a great and a bad thing for our world, right? So these kids are getting these ideas. Um, if they have any, that very kind of funny feeling and their time, me or if they see something burned in the child's room or around the house, give us a call immediately. Early intervention is really what, where we see that, um, you know, that impact, um, and so there and making sure all the lighters and matches are locked up. That is no joke. That is something that they watch us do and they want to imitate what we do. If there's an older sibling in the home or um, you have someone you know living in your house that isn't there, they're a smoker or something, they still need to follow the rules too because they're not being safe. And if they're watching risk taking behavior from somebody else in the home, then they, they will emulate that. And that's really where we want to see that. And also if kids in a crisis, we see most of our kiddos are doing that out of some purpose or reason and it fires an instant gratification thing. And we're an instant gratification generation with these kids. They want to take control of something very quickly. They don't want to wait for it. So a lighter is an easy fix. Um, and there'll be bored and Oh, let me see if this happens or if they're talking or asking about what would happen if I let this army man on fire and, and well it melts or how does that work? Those are things that you're, you want to have those discussions. But also we're always, it's a free program. We always welcome anyone in the community participate or if you see something around your business or your, where you live call all the time, anytime.
So parents, if you feel like it's over your head call. But there are, those are some great tips is working in so many ways for us. Yeah. Thanks for being here. So last thing, how can people reach out to you guys if, uh, if they're a teacher, they want you to come to class, uh, or any other sort of outreach by you guys?
We have all of our information on our website and that's Colorado springs.gov/fire. And if you go to Carter Springs at gov slash fire safety, you're going to get all those safety tips for in and around your house, injury prevention and whatnot. Um, they can always call at three eight five five nine five zero.
Great. Well we really appreciate you coming down and uh, and talking some tips with us and whatnot and uh, uh, and we're getting into that holiday season too, so everybody stays safe as you're setting up your Christmas trees as well. We didn't even jump into that fun, but um, any, any parting words for us?
Well, Thanksgiving is in a week or so, two weeks. Um, Turkey fryers, not our friends. So you know, opt for the uh, Uber eats or something along that. Not drop that, just cook it in the oven. The oven place.
Yeah, I guess it could be a fire hazard as well. So anyways. All right, well let's get outta here. Don't set your tree on fire. Don't set your Turkey on fire and stay safe for another edition of behind the Springs. I'm Ted. We thank you, Jen, thank them as well.
There you go.