Fire Prevention Week 2009: Are You Training or Entertaining?

Fire Prevention Week 2009 is coming around very soon (Oct. 4-10). How many fire departments are truly prepared to take advantage of this opportunity and impact their community fire problem? While no doubt fire departments will have the best of...


Fire Prevention Week 2009 is coming around very soon (Oct. 4-10). How many fire departments are truly prepared to take advantage of this opportunity and impact their community fire problem? While no doubt fire departments will have the best of intentions this year, a great deal of money, time and...


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Fire Prevention Week 2009 is coming around very soon (Oct. 4-10). How many fire departments are truly prepared to take advantage of this opportunity and impact their community fire problem? While no doubt fire departments will have the best of intentions this year, a great deal of money, time and effort will be misguided and the goal of reducing fires unrealized. With the steep decline in fires that started in the 1970s having planed out, and even increased in the last few years, we need to change the way we do business.

This year, banners, posters and fire engines will be displayed and pamphlets handed out in the hundreds, but they mean nothing to a person who has not been educated first. A pamphlet about fire extinguishers does nothing for someone who has not been educated on where to mount it and how to use it. While the pamphlet generates attention, it does not in itself educate the way we in the fire service need. While your department will undoubtedly record hundreds of fire prevention contacts during that week, will you have really prevented anything? Will you have educated anyone? Have you placed your money and manpower where it will make the biggest impact?

We must keep in mind that Fire Prevention Week is not only about preventing fires to save the lives of our citizens. It's also about reducing firefighter line-of-duty deaths and injuries. Reductions in fires mean a reduction in responses, which means a reduction in risk to our people. This is not just a week for public relations, but a week in which we can advance our cause and our profession as a whole.

There is still time to make the most of Fire Prevention Week and save a life, but now is the time to prepare for this important week, not on Oct. 1. Fire departments must plan to take advantage of this opportunity and put their efforts and money into programs and events that will instill in their citizens the importance of fire safety, and not just a warm and fuzzy feeling about their local fire station.

First, fire departments must educate themselves and start training their people. Obtain National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire reports, your state's reports and your own reports, then analyze them. What is the fire problem? Where are the fires occurring? What demographic group is most often involved? What are the leading causes of these fires? Where are victims being found, and were smoke detectors involved? How many fire-damaged homes had fire extinguishers — and how many extinguishers were found unused and charred under the kitchen sink? Do the people who will host your firehouse tours during Fire Prevention Week know?

This is an extremely important step that is overlooked, but it is nevertheless one of the most important steps in prevention, and one of the most inexpensive. Quite simply, if your people are not educated about the problem, how can they effectively educate your citizens? If you do not know what your problem is, then how can you apply the funds and manpower to efficiently help solve the problem?

Not only is this information important for your own department's education, but also for you to be an effective media contact. Most media will give more attention to local news that is in line with state and national news — in others words, big news. For example, if cooking is the number-one cause of fires in your community, by using statistics that also show cooking as the number-one cause of fire in your state and the nation, you will be able to add more interest for the editor and the article will have more impact. Then, every time your fire-educated citizens read about cooking fires, they will be reminded of the seriousness of cooking fires and that they occur every day across your community, state and nation, costing millions. Are you communicating and educating your public effectively?

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