Fire Prevention Week is about saving lives, the lives of our citizens and the lives of our firefighters who respond and are put at risk.
It's Fire Prevention Week 2009 and Mrs. "Smith" brings her son "Jonny" to the fire station late on Saturday afternoon. The firefighters show them all around the fire station and their fire truck - Engine 1. Jonny gets a plastic fire hat, a coloring book, and a pat on the head. Mrs. Smith and Jonny leave the station with a "warm, fuzzy" feeling about their fire department.
Later that evening while at home Mrs. Smith started cooking dinner and in the middle of doing so she answers the telephone. Because her smoke detector does not have a battery she doesn't realize her stove is on fire until she hears the sound of shattering glass. The fire grows more intense as she instinctively throws water on it. Now, with a fully involved kitchen fire, she runs out of the backdoor. After not being able to locate Jonny outside, she runs back in to look for him.
The neighbors hear the exploding glass and the screams of Mrs. Smith and call 9-1-1. Four minutes later Engine 1 arrives, and upon being told a mother and child were inside, the company officer takes his team in for a search. Three minutes later the house flashes over with the firefighters still inside.
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A neighbor hears a child scream for his mommy and sees Jonny hiding in the bushes, the melted fire hat still on his head.
How many opportunities in this story were there to save a life? We all joined the fire service because we wanted to help others and save lives and property from fire; however almost every one of us will go our entire career without making the dramatic 6 o'clock news rescue with flames licking at our heels.
What we seem to not realize is that almost every day we have a chance to save lives, the lives of not only our citizens who we have sworn to protect, but the lives of our own. While fire prevention activities need to be a year-round activity, Fire Prevention Week (the oldest public heath observance on record) is an opportunity for every firefighter and fire department to accomplish what they set out to do when they joined the fire department - save lives. But is your department -- and are you -- prepared to do this?
The first thing you need to do is to determine what the top two causes of fire are in your community along with the statistics to accompany it. Simply saying that "Cooking is the leading cause of fire," is good, but much more effective is saying "Over 65 percent of the fires in our community are caused by cooking and occur between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and 73 percent of those homes did not have a fire extinguisher, and 55 percent did not have a working smoke detector." Adding such statistical information makes the statement more personal, applicable, and professional.
Once you have determined what your top two hazards are you need to look at those problems from a three dimensional aspect: prevention, reaction and survival. What can be done to prevent the fire from occurring, what can be done to react and minimize the damage should one occur, and finally should the fire grow out of control, how to survive it.
While we should educate our citizens on all fire dangers, often times there are only a few minutes of opportunity, so you have to make them count. Quick, targeted messages will have more of an effect when a passing moment presents itself. This information should be provided to all of your personnel, along with training on how to present it, and not just during Fire Prevention Week but all year long.
Now design basic educational programs and messages for those two top hazards that include the three dimensional approach. Design your educational and training presentations around cognitive learning skills; in other words get your audience up and practicing. Students retain 90 percent of what the say while doing! The fire your citizens will have to survive, should one occur, is the exact same chemical science our personnel have to deal with to suppress it. We didn't learn those skills from only lectures and video tapes, did we?