Preventing Harm, One Home at a Time

After a long absence (about 28 years' worth), it has been great to return to Washington, DC and once again put on a DC firefighter's uniform. After I completed six years of service at Engine 10 in the 1970s, I had a wonderful opportunity to get out and...


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When Burt agreed to be a partner, helping to kick off the "SAVU" program and with the financial support issues behind us, I started to breathe a little easier. I now believed that "SAVU" was going to happen and be successful. The morning was full of activity as the final parts of the plan were put into motion. I arrived at the appointed location at 7 o'clock only to find that most of the "heavy lifting" was completed. Our command post vehicle was the center of attention, with many folks assembled around to obtain supplies and orders for the day. In front of the command post were a podium and stage for a 10 A.M. press conference to kick off the event. The smell of pork and chicken barbeque filled the air. I was grateful to learn later that the IAP included a "world class" lunch prepared by DCFD's Barbeque Team (that is correct; we have a group of firefighters who tour this nation and compete for various honors for their cookery).

Several other elements were taking place while I marveled at the efficiency and effectiveness of the command team and various support players. Among the activities were sign-in and supporting paperwork to let the volunteers help and ride out with their prospective companies. Next, the unit leaders (officers and drivers) were in training and operations briefings. For about 30 minutes, company officers and drivers were updated on the details of the "SAVU" program and given their street assignments. It was soon after that the volunteers were paired with their apparatus for the final unit-level briefing.

At the stroke of 10 o'clock, the press conference started. In all there was our Mayor, Council Chair and the Ward's Council Member in attendance. They spoke to all of Washington's media agencies about just how critical this program is and that everyone must have a properly installed smoke alarm. Another unexpected highlight was the fact that all three elected officials agreed to provide $300,000 of support to operate the "SAVU" program for the next year. Among the improvements that we hope to reach is adding a part-time position to manage this high-profile, community-friendly program.

Along with our Governing Body, we had several community leaders to include the parents of the 5-year-old girl who lost her life. The girl's mother gave a powerful speech. The final speaker of the day was Dr. Clark. He gave a resounding speech that sounded more like a testimonial to the department for being committed to this community outreach. The history lesson about the smoke alarm promotional program for the 1970s and a bit of insight about even the department's reluctance to trust the devices 30 plus years ago was thought-provoking. Then, to have Burt lead by example and climb aboard Engine 17 to work as a smoke-alarm installer for the day was nothing short of an exclamation mark for this program kickoff.

A Peek Into The Future

As 3 P.M. approached, we had reached every one of our objectives. More than 200 alarms were installed (the units were either smoke and CO devices or the newest technology — a talking detector that provides detailed instructions using the child's Mom or Dad's voice). Over 600 homes had to be reached. Although most of the customers were not at home, we left a calling card that explained the program and a number to call to have a device installed or help to repair an existing one. The number-one goal was to operate in such a way that no member or volunteer would be hurt, so another goal was reached with no injuries.

Next, we wanted to make sure that the entire event was well documented to include media coverage at the opening and to record all of the residences that were checked; with a lot of help from our IT staff, this was accomplished. Finally, all workers were to be fed and thanked for the extra effort, and that was handled by Assistant Fire Chief of Planning & Preparedness Brian Lee.

The decision was made at the end of the day (and supported by our labor association, IAFF Local 36, fire and EMS administration, community leaders and the elected officials) that a Community Smoke Alarm Blitz would be held every third Saturday of the month in a neighborhood that experienced significant fire-loss history. The second blitz is being planned, and other developments are in process. The hope is that 10 more companies will go out and install 10 units each in their first-due areas. When we add this component to the "SAVU" program on smoke-alarm blitz day, we will install another 100 detectors. Finally, we have added a web link and a "hotline" telephone number for families to call to get an alarm installed on demand for families that are not available on Saturdays. We will be watching civilian fire-death statistics closely to determine the effectiveness of this program, making the needed changes to make it successful. I am sure that it will make a difference in "Preventing Harm in Our Community."