The Beaufort Fire Department was fortunate to have two bilingual firefighters on staff that were eager to assist with the community.
Beaufort County is one of the fastest growing counties in South Carolina, and one of fastest growing populations in Beaufort County is the Hispanic population, many of which are migrant farmers who travel to the area to work in the agriculture fields.
With the increase of the Hispanic population, came an increase in the challenges to provide essential services to this demographic. While the 911 call volume has increased every year for the City of Beaufort, the amount of emergency calls involving the Hispanic population remained constant with other populations, but fire officials still made reaching out to this group a priority.
The City of Beaufort Fire Department not only desired to provide efficient and effective emergency response, but also prevention services as well. This posed a challenge not only because of the language barriers, but cultural differences, along with the distrust some of these foreigners may have of government services.
We were unsure if the number of emergency responses to Hispanic families was due to normal statistical flow, their lack of knowledge on 911, or their reluctance to seek help from city services. So our first hurdle was to educate these families that our purpose was to make sure they were safe, and make them feel confident and comfortable about calling in an emergency, and making sure they knew how to that.
The Beaufort Fire Department was fortunate to have two bilingual firefighters on staff that were eager to assist. Both bilingual firefighters, Sammy Negron and Vanessa Dominguez, went on to earn Community Service Awards from Firehouse Magazine for their Hispanic educational outreach efforts.
The key for us reaching this group was the same as it has been for all our groups. Constantly being involved in the community and networking to spread the word on what services we can provide, and then following through at every opportunity. The two most successful elements of this program are word of mouth and being aggressive with the message.
One of the first steps the Beaufort Fire Department made was to become involved with a Hispanic news program on the local cable station WJWJ. The news program was called "Nosotros," and the fire department became involved after the director saw a local fire safety program in the community, and inquired about the possibilities of doing the show. The Beaufort Fire Department jumped at the opportunity.
The Nosotros program reached over three counties, and after each news segment Firefighters Negron or Dominguez would appear with a safety message, or a talk on fire department operations. The Beaufort Fire Department designated a special phone line for Hispanic speaking families to call in and request smoke detectors, or with a safety question. A Spanish section was added to the department's website, which drew attention from countries as far away as Chili.
Monthly safety tips are also sent to local Hispanic newspapers, La Patria USA and La Voz Latina, along with department contact information. Because of their efforts to educate the Hispanic population and working so well with the fire department, both WJWJ and the La Patria USA received a South Carolina Firefighter's Association Media Award. Firefighter Negron has recently been invited to be a biweekly guest speaker on a Spanish radio station, SOL, which reaches the Hispanic population in two states. Again, safety and fire department operations are the topics.
We send the safety tips into the newspaper, but we do so in English, and they handle the translations for us. It is important to make sure the tips are short and simple with common wording. One challenge is the style of Spanish being spoken. For example Firefighter Dominguez was from Venezuela and Firefighter Negron was from Puerto Rico, and there were some words each spoke in Spanish which the other didn't understand because their Spanish was a little different due to their respective countries. So using common, easily translated words is important to getting your message out, and be aware, you may have a certain segment of the Hispanic populations that does not understand because the wording doesn't translate properly in their Spanish vocabulary.