It's no secret that the economy is in a slump. I am sure this is not a surprise to any fire department in the United States. Furthermore, I predict that any positive changes in the economy that may come almost certainly will be felt slowly by those of us on the front line of community services...
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It's no secret that the economy is in a slump. I am sure this is not a surprise to any fire department in the United States. Furthermore, I predict that any positive changes in the economy that may come almost certainly will be felt slowly by those of us on the front line of community services.
As firefighters, we pride ourselves in providing public service without complaint and will continue to find a way to save property and lives regardless of what resources we have. Inadvertently, we will again prove, albeit with great sacrifice and compromise, that calls will still be answered and fires will still be put out — that we can do our job with less. So what now? Shall we complain and quit? Stop promptly responding to calls? Of course not. Firefighters by nature of their character and their drive to win at all costs will always give 100%, so the challenge is to find a way to do so safely.
The Beaufort, SC, Fire Department is not unlike the thousands of fire departments facing tough financial times. As part of our strategic planning, we took a hard look at our community and the services we provide, along with all plausible emergency scenarios. Taking our staffing and response assets into consideration, we considered how to provide services that maximize our ability to save lives and property while minimizing our risks. The buildings and processes that gave us concern we identified as our target hazards.
A target hazard is defined as a location or plausible scenario in which a fire department could quickly become overwhelmed and for which additional resources, now scarce, would be needed. Our options were to approach such an incident with a "surround-and-drown" operational plan that included writing the building off and accepting that casualties may result or find a way to do what firefighters do — win. The result of this planning and analysis was the creation of our target hazard program.
An effective fire safety program addresses both the buildings and their occupants. For example, a building can have all the fire extinguishers required by code, but if the occupants are not trained to use them properly, the fire prevention picture is incomplete. As part of our program, in addition to conducting fire inspections on a tailored schedule to ensure code compliance, we offer an educational/training aspect.
The first step is researching a particular classification of target hazard (hotels, big-box stores, etc.) to identify managers. Letters are sent out by certified mail inviting them and their staffs to participate in the target hazard program. To encourage participation, the fire department offers dated certificates (to encourage annual re-training) reading "The staff of (name of business) has successfully completed emergency training from the Beaufort Fire Department" that can be displayed for customers to see. Businesses with which the fire department already has close working relationships recruit other businesses. Letters are also sent to the risk-management departments of national chains so they are aware that such training is being offered for their local franchises.
The program is structured on the three tiers of a comprehensive fire safety training program — to first train the staff to prevent fires from occurring in the first place; then how to properly react and respond to suppress or contain a fire should one occur, thereby making it more manageable when firefighters arrive; and finally how to get themselves and patrons out safely should a fire grow beyond their ability to suppress or contain it.
The program is presented in the fire station's training room. Appetizers are provided so that time for the managers to "talk shop" and network is available; this was a suggestion made by the managers themselves as an incentive to participate. Each student is provided a copy of Chapter Four of the International Fire Code that deals with emergency planning, along with copies of any documents from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) relevant to particular businesses. Before the first lesson starts, a brief overview of our fire department, our services and our capabilities is given.