Recently I had the opportunity to visit with the 80 year-old Chief Executive Officer of a company that has been dedicated to public fire education for over 40 years. I was amazed at his insight, understanding and creative thinking in the area of public fire education.
He noted to me that in his experience he has consistently found that our citizens really do not know what our firefighters do and why. This is true even when the opportunity comes to raise our awareness level after an incident in the "teachable moment," or on a broader scale during fie prevention week, or during his idea of "Firefighter Appreciation Week."
You may believe that it really doesn't matter if they know what we do and why because, after all, this is the service we are paid to deliver like any other profession. We all know that this is not true. We love the fire service in whatever form that "service" may take, whether it be suppression, prevention, public education or leadership.
But, what about the volunteer firefighters? They have the same motivation and the same passion for the profession. When citizens become involved in an incident, they see firefighters. Do you really think that they stop to consider whether the firefighters on the scene, or in the classroom, or at the inspection are volunteer or not?
So the thought occurred to me that, perhaps, one way to raise the awareness might be to give our citizens some information about firefighters, but from the heart. It is the heart that gains the kind of emotional loyalty from the public we will always require to continue to be firefighters. Our intelligence merely validates what our hearts know to be true.
On January 7th, 1995 four firefighters lost their lives in the horrible Pang warehouse fire set by an arsonist in Seattle and I was a fire commissioner in Woodinville, WA, at the time. The nature of the incident affected me and the entire Seattle metropolitan area. The four firefighters who died rushed into an inferno and fell through the floor to their deaths.
This loss of life brought home to me the danger and the motivation that came with the job. I decided to write an article for the main Seattle newspaper, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, in an attempt to tell the story of firefighters and their motivations as best I could. The paper published the article. Since that time I have sent the article to numerous communities which experienced the loss of firefighters in the line of duty, simply changing the first sentence so the article applied to the incident at the time and the particular community. The local paper has almost always printed the article. Quite frankly, I am getting tired of doing this because it points to the fact that "everyone is still not going home!"
As many of you know know, the excellent, excellent work of the Vision 20/20 Conference has set the stage for a paradigm shift that deals with actions instead of platitudes in bringing the fire problem in this country to a manageable level. We may never completely eradicate the problem, but we have within our grasp the means to do it now; and nothing is going to stop us. We will do it together.
With these thoughts in mind, I offer to each of you - if you find value in its use - a modification of my original article so you can submit it to your local or on-line newspaper. You don't have to wait for loss of life to submit it. Simply customize it by changing the opening paragraph to discuss some other fact about your department and insert your name or that of the person submitting the article. You may want to consult with your public information officer for guidance, or feel free to e-mail me for some direction at email@example.com and I will help you customize it.
I offer it to you with my complements. The more our citizens know about what we do and the reasons why, the more they will understand the nature of the problem so that they can continue to support our efforts in protecting them. This is grass roots public service marketing and we all need to be a part of it.