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Last month's column asked whether we in the fire service are doing everything we can to raise awareness of America's biggest fire problem -- fires in residential occupancies. While fires in several categories are down, overall fires in residential occupancies are increasing, and that's where the most fire deaths are occurring. We cannot rely on codes and ordinances to affect these numbers; the only way to bring our residential fires in the same downward spiral as other categories is public education and more importantly Ã¢ fire safety training. These are areas that, statistically speaking, we have been failing in.
Once again, to have an effective "fire safety" program, you have to look at who your department is talking to and how you are delivering your message. Are you conducting fire safety awareness, fire safety training or conducting the whole fire prevention package? For example, targeting children, while important, may not be effective if your intent is "fire prevention," as skills aimed at children focus mainly on fire survival. Videotapes, coloring books, banners and displays are great awareness tools and are useful in any program, but not the best educational or training tools. In order to achieve a true education and obtain that 90% student retention range, your audience needs to get hands on in the lessons you are trying to teach -- they need to train. To have an effective and comprehensive "fire safety" program, you should look at the whole spectrum of ages and programs and what you are doing and how you are doing it.
There are many effective programs across the U.S., but what we have been lacking is a medium in which to share these programs, as well as all the successes and failures. Here at the Beaufort, SC, Fire Department, through trial and error, we have developed a few programs that have been successful in not only delivering our fire prevention messages, but also promoting our fire department within our community. They are simple, relatively inexpensive and involve only a little commitment, but hopefully these ideas and tips will assist your department in adding to what you are already doing to make your fire safety programs more dynamic and maximize the educational value.
Delivering Your Message
The Beaufort Fire Department has been fortunate to have been awarded a Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters grant to purchase a fire safety education house. While you do not need such a house to conduct effective fire safety programs, it is an amazing tool. No matter how many times people have been through our safety house, they are excited to do it again and to tell all their friends about their experience. This tool itself has been the catalyst of many of our repeat performances to all age groups and is totally interactive, which also accomplishes our fire safety training goals.
We divided our programs into four main groups: Day Care, Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten and Elementary Schools. The younger they are, the easier it is easy to captivate them! Talking alone may solicit appropriate answers from your young students when questioned, but do not be fooled to think that it means they have retained or comprehended what it is you are trying to teach. Children repeat everything they hear, and are whizzes at retaining rhymes, but do they really understand the message you are trying to deliver, and can they perform the skills necessary to survive a fire?
These age groups should be targeted with introductory "fire survival" training -- what to do once a fire has occurred -- and should not be added into your "fire prevention" numbers. These youngsters do not have much control over fire prevention issues, which is why it is important to reach out to parents as well. At the Beaufort Fire Department, we begin discussing fire prevention at grade five with cooking safety, as many at this age have started cooking for themselves and their younger siblings, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports support that by showing that cooking fires increase starting at age 10.