You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
This quote from Mohandas Gandhi has motivated me throughout my life. It led me to pursue an education degree to become an elementary school teacher. It encouraged me to join the fire service as a paid-on-call firefighter. It drew me to the professional position I am in today, and it continues to inspire me daily.
We all have the ability – I would even say the responsibility – to educate the public at every teachable moment. Set up a display at a community event to show residents the most common fire causes in your service area. Host opportunities for community members to visit the fire station and ask questions about fire safety.
There’s hardly any cost involved, so having little-to-no budget is not a reason to skip these opportunities. In fact, if you have budget issues, it might be a great idea to host small events, show your community why you are needed and explain the projects you could do…if only you had more money. In short, if you want things to change in your community, then you need to be that change.
If your department has tried to make improvements, but you’ve had your efforts blocked, don’t give up. Try some new avenues. Find a new way to get your message across. Reach out and find out what has worked for neighboring departments. When you hear about a program put together by another department, rather than being jealous or angry about the budget they enjoy – find out how they got the funding! You might be surprised to find out that they:
• Worked to get grants
• Now have grant-writing experience
• Are willing to help you with a grant application
Maybe they approached their local business leaders for help. Ask them to share the messages that worked. Be the change – don’t get put off by the process.
There is one surprising source of push-back you might face as you try to be that change. There are firefighters who believe that fire prevention education threatens their jobs. If you’re dedicated to the idea of fire safety education, you may someday find yourself explaining – to an otherwise reasonable person – that fighting fire takes place on two levels…both before the fire starts and after. Don’t hesitate to make that explanation. Do it more than once, if necessary. Be the change.
I’m reminded of a recently retired firefighter and fire marshal who gave more than 40 years of service to his community. Though he also touched countless lives as a firefighter and emergency medical technician, he touched an untold number more by conducting fire inspections and presenting fire safety education programs in schools, businesses, shopping centers and other locations throughout his community – programs that prevented fires and their inherent injuries, deaths and property destruction. Like firefighting, fire education work is also a noble calling, and one we should equally acknowledge, support and emulate.
I often become frustrated by the number of preventable fire deaths – deaths that might have been avoided by a simple act of caution. When that happens, I remind myself that instead of giving up I need to be the change I wish to see. I need to work harder to get the message out. I need to make sure that people understand that it can happen to them. I need to help my colleagues in the fire service get the message out, too – because most of them know that though they joined the service to suppress fires, they’re also fighting fire when they prevent these tragedies from happening at all. Together we can be the change we wish to see.
BECKI WHITE is a deputy state fire marshal and fire safety educator with the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division. View all of Becki's articles here. You can reach Becki by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.