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A Fire Prevention Success Story

If you prevent a fire from occurring, how will you know if you are being successful in your pursuit of making a difference?

We all come into the fire service for our own reasons. For some it is the adventure and excitement, for some it may be the prestige as firefighters are always ranked at the top of every public survey from respect to honesty.

But under all that, almost all come into this profession to make a difference, to help our community and our neighbors. There is no other profession where there is such instant satisfaction in that pursuit. Even if the end result is not what we hoped, we always walk away from the scene leaving it better than it was when we arrived.

Some people in our profession take the pursuit of protecting our community to a deeper level, and take the fire prevention route. What better way to serve your neighbors in the pursuit of saving lives and property from the ravages of fire than to prevent that fire from ever occurring in the first place, it is the ultimate in fire protection, and is the cutting edge of today's fire service profession. But such a path comes with a burden.

If you prevent a fire from occurring, how will you know if you are being successful in your pursuit of making a difference? You'll never know about your success because the fire never happened. In fact, in the fire prevention business, there is a tendency to constantly feel like you are failing every time the tones drop for a house fire, or someone loses their life. Fire prevention can be a frustrating line of work.

Every now and again, just when you think it no one is listening or paying attention to your messages and lectures, there is a glimmer of hope that keeps you going. Below is such a glimmer that happened for our department.

The City of Beaufort Fire Department teamed up with neighboring Lady's Island/St. Helena Fire District to provide fire safety training for all students in the lower grades at a local school - Beaufort Academy.

During the presentation, we used our Family Safety Education House to teach fire survival skills for grades one thru five. We covered all the basics from 9-1-1 to smoke detectors, staying low and feeling doors for heat, and escaping through windows. We even talked about helping mom and dad out by reminding them when they left the stove on while watching American Idol or Sponge Bob Square Pants. After escaping out the window into the arms of a firefighter in gear, they met at the meeting place for a head count, and then had an opportunity to tour a fire truck and receive a fire hat. It was a successful program, one that we have done two years in a row!

One week later a student who participated in this fire survival presentation, along with her mother who was also a teacher at the school, had a fire in their house. Upon being informed of the fire, the family took immediate action at the direction of the child. I believe this story is best told through the words of the mom/teacher who was kind enough to share with us:

Being a teacher I am embarrassed to admit that I had never talked to my own children about what to do if we had a house fire. Thank goodness the Beaufort Fire Department and Lady's Island/St. Helena Fire Department visited our school. My youngest daughter was also in my third grade class. The firefighters brought their smoke/fire trailer in which my students, my daughter, and myself experienced a simulated fire. We practiced perfectly and all made it out to our meeting place. (A mailbox brought by the department to our playground)

That night our daughter relayed her day to her dad and they decided together that our meeting place should be our mailbox, too. Once again I must admit my mistake, this was the one and only conversation that we ever had with our children about fire safety.

Believe it or not, it was not a week later that our neighbors knocked on our door, one early morning, to tell us that smoke was pouring out of our eaves. I panicked but our third grader knew what to do. As my husband climbed the smoke filled steps to the attic he called for the fire extinguisher and our third grader retrieved it for him. I didn't even know where we kept it! Then she informed me that I needed to call 911 and that she and her sister should go to our meeting place.

The Lady's Island/St. Helena firefighters arrived to completely put out the flames while our family watched safely from our mailbox. We have many people to thank for saving not only our home but more importantly our family that day and it starts with the visit to our school from the fire department. Thank you.

The family also sent a letter to the newspaper editor along with a picture of us working with the children, which appeared in the local paper under the title "Listen to Firefighter's Advice!"

This story illustrates many points for those of us in the prevention field:

First! Our messages are getting out there, are received and understood. You never know who is going to need it and when, and many times you may never know if it has made a difference, you just have to trust that it did. Just focus on one person, one family, at a time.

Second! I have been a big advocate on this! The need to educate the parents along with the children! Adults control fire prevention and safety in the home. Our countless hours working with the children will mean nothing if our messages are not reinforced and practiced at home. Parents need to know what messages we are giving to the children and the importance of continuing that message at home.

Fire prevention can be a lonely and thankless business, but we must continue our efforts. We must be creative and aggressive to get our messages out. We need to train our public to prevent fires just as we train our firefighters to suppress them. We must be persistent!

So when you are down, discouraged and are thinking about hanging up your educational programs for the glory of the lights and sirens, and the immediate satisfaction of success that comes with suppression, just go and pick up your local paper. Is there a headline of a fire disaster in your community that day? If not, good job, you made a difference that day. If there has been a fire, don't despair, all that means is we have more work to do, and somewhere in that article it will tell you exactly how to do it.

Nothing in life worth doing comes easy; fire prevention is a perfect example of that.

And always remember, one person and one family at a time...


DANIEL BYRNE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, 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. A 20-year veteran of the emergency services and a National Fire Academy Alumni, he is a veteran of the Desert Shield/Storm war with the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2006 the City of Beaufort Fire Department was awarded the South Carolina "Richard S. Campbell Award" for excellence in public fire safety education.. To read Daniel's complete biography and view their archived articles, click here. You can reach Daneil by e-mail at dbyrne@beaufortfiredept.com.

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