Part one of this article discussed the reasons we incorporate evaluation as part of our programs and resources available for program evaluation. Part two will discuss the road to effective evaluation and the types of evaluation. As mentioned in the previous article, while the fire service has employed some evaluation techniques, we have not shown how a service has been effective or where it needs to be improved. National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 1710 and 1720 went a long way in employing evaluation strategies in the areas of response time and staffing to look at the effectiveness of fireground operations. We now evaluate fires, staffing at those fires, apparatus response time, extent of fire damage and firefighter fireground injuries. The standard’s main emphasis is evaluation for life safety, firefighter safety and property-loss stabilization.
Effective evaluation leads to the development of performance measurements, program benchmarks and trend analysis. It is created from standards and through risk-reduction analysis. The creation of the Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System is an example of effective evaluation. This program examines near-miss incidents looking at the situation as a whole and decisions that lead to the incident. The objective is to improve firefighter safety, not to place blame. Evaluation is about documenting successes and improving service delivery.
Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is even more valuable in today’s economy with staffing cuts and increased demand for services. This applies to the four areas of fire prevention: Fire and Life Safety Education, Fire Inspection/Code Enforcement, Plan Review and Fire Investigation. These areas are often first on the cutting block as their importance has not been proven. Count the number of personnel in your department delivering prevention services versus those providing emergency response services.
Hopefully, you are familiar with the five “E’s” of risk reduction: Education; Engineering/Technology; Enforcement; Economic Incentives/Disincentives; and Emergency Response.
Education – The foundation of risk reduction is education. The goals of education are to provide information that creates awareness. Through this awareness we hope to change one’s knowledge about fire and fire safety. The change in knowledge, accompanied by the increased awareness, will lead to a change in attitude and behavior of the individual. Without the increase of awareness, there will not be a permanent change in attitude and behavior and the individual will resort to old behaviors.
People do not do what we want for three simple reasons: they were not trained or educated; they misunderstand the message; they just do not want to follow instructions. The first two are solved through education; the third by corrective actions (i.e. discipline and/or enforcement). Often we assume people understand how to be fire safe, even though they had no formal training in school. Most of what they have learned is through experience and or what they see on television/movies. Some of these examples are false depictions of reality (movies that show flames, but little smoke so we may see the action or actors).
It’s important to educate instead of lecture. People need to understand rather than be threatened with injury or property damage. Most people have the “I never thought or believed it would happen to me” attitude; one we often hear when informing an owner there has been a fire at their property.
Engineering/Technology – Engineering/Technology is used when education alone does not change behavior. This element removes the human factor. We saw this with the introduction of devices such as the smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector. These devices provided notification that replaced fire-safety practices. They did not necessarily prevent fires, but provided notification to alert occupants on how to react (extinguish or evacuate).