As the exposure within the Spanish community began to grow, so did the educational opportunities. Firefighter Negron has been a constant participant at the summer Migrant Safety Camp which targets the children of Hispanic migrant workers. The students experience the Beaufort Fire Department's mobile safety education house and get hands on training in home fire safety. During this opportunity, the children really light up and come alive when they see a firefighter get up in front of them and start speaking Spanish, the kids really get excited about that and actively participate in the program.
Beaufort fire crews are also present during Hispanic voter registration drives and church events to hand out Spanish fire safety pamphlets, meet the people, and Sparky the fire dog is often seen wondering around giving high fives to the thrilled children.
Another important Hispanic group the Beaufort Fire Department began working with was the ESOL (English as a Second Language) program. ESOL is a liaison program that is county-wide within the school system, where a staff member from each school works with families whose primary language is Spanish. These families meet monthly or quarterly either as individual schools, or as a county, and are always looking for guest speakers. Beaufort firefighters have not only been able to do home fire safety training with whole Hispanic families in the education house, but fire extinguisher training as well. The ESOL group has also been an instrumental liaison for Hispanic families needing smoke detectors and fire extinguishers which the Beaufort Fire Department provides, and installs, for free.
While overall emergency calls for the Hispanic population is no higher than other cultural groups for the city of Beaufort Fire Department, it is a group that is a priority for fire officials due to their growing numbers, lack of knowledge on home fire safety and emergency procedures, and often their economic means which makes purchasing smoke detectors and fire extinguishers difficult, and where teenagers are often the care givers for younger siblings. The payoff is not only a safer community, but the sense of community itself, as the relationship between the Hispanic population and the fire department becomes closer.
With the country in turmoil over immigration, and tensions high in many communities, it is now more important than ever to reach out to this cultural group; the actions of the fire department itself could be the catalyst to ease such tensions. It is our responsibility as a fire service to be proactive, not reactive, and that's what these programs are all about.
Getting started in bridging this gap and educating this population is as simple as reaching out and getting involved, the exposure and word of mouth alone will take it the rest of the way. Most importantly being creative! No matter what type of support you have been requested for, you can always tie in safety with a little creativity.
Daniel Byrne is a Lieutenant, EMT-P, with the City of Beaufort, SC, Fire Department and currently serves in the capacity of Fire Marshal, Public Education Officer and Public Information Officer for the City of Beaufort and Town of Port Royal. Daniel has been involved with the emergency services for 20 years, with the last 10 in the fire service. He is National Fire Academy Alumni and currently a volunteer with the Beaufort County EMS. A veteran of the Desert Shield/Storm war with the U.S. Marine Corps, he is a Technical Sergeant, Airport Crash Crew, with the Georgia Air National Guard Fire Protection Division. In 2006 the City of Beaufort Fire Department was awarded the South Carolina "Richard S. Campbell Award" for excellence in public fire safety education. You can e-mail Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.