As the fire services continues to take the brunt of the economic downturn, there is no doubt that prevention is now not only a backseat of many fire departments, but hitchhiking along the side of the road.
If fire departments are doing any prevention at all, they are being done with great sacrifice, limited resources, and many times by only one or two individuals. But the end result will remain the same - the fire problem will get worse and our firefighters continuing to be put at preventable risk.
Just as the saying goes "it takes a village to raise a child," so does "It takes a community to be safe."
For fire departments to increase their prevention success, it is important to get the help and support of the community to generate audiences and deliver effective programs. There is no need to go at it alone.
The scenario: You are the company officer and are seeing a high incident of fires being set at a local community housing development in your first-due district in the early evenings on the weekdays. The fires are escalating and recently have involved structures.
Bystanders have told your firefighters they believe the fires are being set by the children in the development who seem to be running around unsupervised. Your department lacks full-time resources to address this issue, and while no injuries have resulted, you know it is just a matter of time before it does so you decide to get involved. But you are a one person show. What difference can you make?
The first step in addressing this issue from a community involvement aspect is to identify who the stakeholders are.
In this scenario, the stakeholders here are not only the juveniles and their families, but also the owners of the housing complex, law enforcement, school system, court system, insurance companies, possibly social services, water department, environmental groups due to pollutants caused by fires and damage to shrubbery, etc.
The key to finding your stakeholders is to think beyond the immediate problem at hand. Think outside the box, and be creative as many of the stakeholders may not even realize they are being impacted or could be impacted.
You may need to explain and demonstrate their role to get their involvement.
Once your stakeholders are identified, you need to decide if you want to address this problem utilizing a community-based approach through partnerships or a coalition.
It is imperative that you understand the differences and intricacies of each as failure to do so will result in not only failing to address the immediate problem, but also being able to generate any future support for any issues that may arise.
Partnerships are ideal for individual events or programs you wish to conduct. They are relationships in which stakeholders and other supporting agencies come together for an event or single program only, and meet accordingly to prepare and carry out the program.
Upon completion of the program, members of the partnership often return to their respective organizations and meet only when that subject is to be delivered again or another hazard needs to be addressed.
In contrast, coalitions are long-term relationships that are best used when attempting to mitigate and monitor a permanent hazard that cannot be completely alleviated by just education or a single program alone.
They are beneficial when looking to reduce or eliminate a hazard through engineering or enforcement methods.
Determining what you need - partnership or coalition - is imperative to your integrity and success.
Once you have determined who your stakeholders are, and whether you are looking for a partnership and coalition, take the time to learn who in that organization you should speak to or who the decision maker is.
This will involve some research on your behalf and creation of a solid plan, not only a plan on what you are trying to accomplish, but how your plan fits with your stakeholder's needs.