Fire Prevention Week 2011 (Oct. 9 – 15) is closing in and too many fire departments will approach this important opportunity in a buckshot-reactive manner. Many fire department activities during this national public health observance, which is one of the longest health observances on record in the United States, will either be conducted without a consistent theme or message, or based upon a national theme that does not address your specific community issues; and countless firefighters, your number one advertisement and resource containing a wealth of knowledge and experience, are sitting in your fire stations behind bay doors unused and waiting to be requested.
Don’t let this be your fire department this year, and don’t waste this opportunity again.
As this week approaches, take the time to analyze your local statistics and find the top two or three reasons for fire calls in your community. Do not just look at flame to combustible cause, but look at the root cause that brings the flame to reaching the combustibles. For example, if your leading cause of fire is cooking, do not just address cooking fires, but why are they occurring? Are they occurring in the homes of elderly who are forgetful, in single-parent homes, in homes with children, etc.? What can you do to address and correct the root cause? Not only does understanding this help you design an effective approach to address the issue in its entirety, but allows you to understand the dynamics behind the problem, which will enable you to better shape your message and delivery – and just as important develop rapport with your target community.
Once you understand what your problem is in its entirety, and you know the communities most at risk, you can create a three-dimensional educational message to (1) prevent the fire (2) extinguish or contain the fire and (3) survive the fire; now plan your program.
Educate Your People First
If your people are not educated on the problem, how can they effectively educate your citizens? All of your firefighters should know the leading causes of fire and how to prevent them; thus, what to look for when going into homes and how to educate the residents in a manner that will change the behaviors and attitudes leading to the hazard. Your firefighters should all be carrying with them the same messages on topics such as; where to mount fire extinguishers, what size extinguisher a home should have, the best locations for smoke detectors, the dangers of “dead air spaces,” etc.
Your firefighters who are out in your community meeting with your citizens should also know what educational materials you have out there and what programs you have presented; not only is this a conversation piece to generate a fire prevention discussion, but it will allow them to gauge your program’s effectiveness and provide you with feedback on what the “buzz on the street” is. Proving your program’s worth is the new focus in fire prevention today, and this is probably the best method to not only finding out what your citizens have learned, but most importantly what had been retained.
One Community at a Time
Has a supervisor ever told you to “eat that elephant one bite at a time?” Well it applies to fire prevention as well. “One person, one life, at a time!” If your resources and time are limited, then focus all of what you have on your biggest risk neighborhoods.
Learn the Neighborhood
In addition to understanding the total dynamics to your fire problem, take the time to understand the community in its entirety. Who are the community leaders, both formal and informal, who can help with coordination issues and helping you get a program going. What school services that community? What other groups already conduct activities there?
Take informal surveys of the homes and families in these neighborhoods during EMS and service runs. How many have smoke detectors? How old are they and are they being maintained? What is the fire prevention knowledge of the residents? Are there any community events coming up and what types of events do the people in this community enjoy or want?