I saw a movie several years ago that left an impression with me. I think about the its message often. The movie showed the audience how differently a young woman's life would have been had she just not missed the subway train one morning on her way to work. A split-second mishap put into motion actions that eventually changed her life in drastic ways.
I have always been a firm believer in fate, luck and happenstance. I also put quite a bit of stock in planning and preparedness. While I have all my bases covered I like to think that each time someone in the fire service interacts with the public a potentially lifesaving initiative is set in motion. Something is begun that can eventually change someone's life!
In my job as Fire Safety Education Coordinator for the Plano Fire Department I am responsible for scheduling and coordinating fire and life safety educational programs for our department. I send our on-duty firefighters to schools, block parties, senior centers…anywhere that we can share messages and teach people, young and old, how to stay safe. We reach a lot of people each year through these programs and I am confident that we are making a positive impact toward saving lives.
I also know that it is often the impromptu, unplanned, and unscheduled interaction that our firefighters or I have with the citizens that sometimes leads to the best educational opportunities. It may be while shopping for groceries that a firefighter shares a fire safety message with a young child at the grocery store. It may be a quick conversation on the phone with a citizen about smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Perhaps it is the message on the side of all our apparatus stating that "Seat belts save lives." The information casually relayed may be the information that eventually ends up saving a life.
In the fire service our mission is to save lives and while we know it happens we do not always receive word about it happening. The dramatic news footage of a firefighter coming from a smoky building with an unconscious toddler in his hands is the more common way the public envisions firefighters saving lives. But the more common save is the immeasurable goal. We do not always get to put a tally mark in the "Saved" column. The mother who took a few seconds to turn her pot handles inward right before her toddler reaches to the stove may just say a silent prayer of thanks and continue on cooking dinner. The homeowner who decides to put up smoke alarms after a conversation with some firefighters at the gas station may not call the fire station to tell them about how the newly installed smoke alarms alerted his family to the fire in their garage. How wonderful it would be if every time a save happened word could somehow get back to the ones responsible for the safety messages shared? Wouldn't it be great if a tally mark could appear in our "Saved" column each time our safety messages resulted in a save? How inspiring it would be to see the tally marks accumulate. I envision a big, old-fashioned chalkboard in the fire station, much like they used for apparatus assignments, probably hung somewhere in the kitchen, that would silently mark the saves our safety lessons, both planned and impromptu, set into motion.
Our world is full of numbers and statistics these days. Having the numbers to back up a fact or to use in a persuasive discussion is a great benefit to keeping statistics on all sorts of subjects. I personally use the statement, "Having a working smoke alarm in your home decreases your chances of dying in fire in your home by 50 percent," quite often. I think it packs a big punch. It is unfortunate that all the great educational efforts that we know are resulting in saves are not measurable. The tallies on that big old fashioned chalkboard would accumulate quite fast if they were.