During a recent fire officer class, students were dreading the weeklong topic of fire prevention. The soon-to-be company officers were struggling with the notion that they had to spend a week learning about fire prevention. An activity which many felt was beyond the scope of their duties as company officers. The prevention of fires through education, engineering, and code enforcement were all duties assigned to another division. After all, we were hired to fight fires not prevent them! "It is not our job to prevent fires or do fire safety education."
These types of attitudes and beliefs and group norms can be found part of the culture of many fire departments. This is not just the large urban departments that face this. This can be the norm in departments ranging from career to volunteer departments of all sizes. As fire protection professionals we need to continue to focus on the best way to provide service to our customers in the most economical fashion. Preventing fires is far more economical than suppressing fires.
The best course to perform this critical service is through building a fire prevention collation with the community. This is best accomplished by utilizing every member of the fire department, not just the fire prevention division. This community partnership starts at the very top of the organization. This could be the mayor of the community or president of the fire district board. With the support of the governing body, the fire chief becomes the key leader in the organization to champion the fire prevention efforts. Now the task at hand is to get all the other members of the department to have a cultural shift to understand that fire prevention is everyone's job!
This struggle is similar to our earlier discussion of getting company officer students to realize the need to have fire prevention as part of their duties. Chief Berkowsky of Evanston. IL, uses the following parity of "The Top 10 Firefighter Reasons Why Fire Prevention is Not Interesting to Me." We thought it would be fitting for this article to share this with our added commentary.
10. We don't even have a fire prevention bureau.
Exactly! This is the reason why fire prevention is everyone's job. If you don't have a fire prevention bureau, you are it! It is the reason to do it!
9. No sense of accomplishment.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions of fire prevention. Granted it may be difficult to measure the number of fires prevented, but what about the completion of a building with automatic suppression and then responding to a fire at that location to find the fire held by the sprinkler system. Or the struggle to pass an ordinance for standpipes and then once it has passed see how the standpipes positively impact the fire department operations.
8. Not very challenging stuff!
Spend a day with the person designated as the fire department's ire marshal. There is nothing more challenging than sitting in a meeting with developers, attorneys, and architects and explaining the need for a project to have adequate fire department access for suppression operations, the need for standpipes in a high-rise building and the importance of sprinklers for both occupant and firefighter safety. There is only one opportunity to make sure there is enough access for fire department operations and adequate hydrants to do our job. The challenge at hand is to be well prepared to discuss the issue and explain how the requirements positively impact firefighter and occupant safety during a fire.
7. You're putting us out of business.
Fire prevention reduces the number and severity of fires. One of the purposes of fire prevention is to eliminate hazardous conditions. Many of these conditions, if not eliminated, would cause severe injury or death to firefighters in a fire condition. The fire prevention bureau has many customers; firefighters are one of them!