While searching through the Firehouse Forums section the other day I came across a question that was asking "after Fire Prevention Week activities, what's next?" There were several replies having to do with fire safety year round but one reply caught me by surprise. It stated "Year round Fire Prevention is great idea in theory, unfortunately most North American departments only do lip service to prevention and in particular Public Education". This got me thinking if this is true in a majority of departments or is this a minority opinion.
I hope it is only true in a minority of departments because there are a lot of things that can be done year round. I come from a small department, in a small town and we strive to do fire safety education year round. We don't have a huge budget for fire safety but we make do with what we have. To do fire safety education year round you don't necessarily need to be teaching children in a classroom setting. There are lots of other ways to get across the fire safety education message to all ages.
I know some of you are already thinking, "sure we would love to do fire safety year round but we don't have the funds." You may be right to some extent but there are ways around this as well. Right now, FEMA is taking applications for the 2003 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant. This can be applied for online up until Nov. 14, 2003 through the FEMA web page. There may be other grants out there for fire safety education as well.
There are also other ways to get funding for fire safety education. Perhaps you could make a partnership with a local business. Some national chains will help you out as well as those of you in small town USA could approach your local businesses. If you live in a small community with little to no businesses, then if you put the word out that you need help funding fire safety programs, many times your local citizens will help out with donations.
There are also different kinds of fundraisers that could be held. Things like car washes, spaghetti suppers, turkey raffles, etc. Perhaps your local union or fire association could help out with some funds. The list is as long as your imagination can take you.
Then there are the programs you can run. Do all programs cost money? No!! There are many things out there that can be done with little to no cost. Most schools send home a monthly newsletter to keep the parents informed as to what is happening in the school. Could you perhaps approach the school to see if you could put in a small section on fire safety tips?
If that were possible then maybe they would occasionally allow you to put in something more substantial on special occasions like fire prevention week or different holidays. Perhaps your town has a local newspaper. Can you develop a relationship with a local reporter or editor? If so perhaps they could put in occasional articles on fire safety that you can help them with. Or perhaps you could even write articles yourself. Many times local papers are looking for local angles.
Can you approach your civic organizations such as Lion's Club, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, etc? Many times they are looking for speakers to present information at their meetings. Can station tours be conducted year round? Can you reach out to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, YMCA, Boys Clubs, Girls Clubs, etc? They too usually would love to visit the fire station or have someone speak to them on fire safety at their meetings.
Another avenue to pursue is reaching out to your Council on Aging or Senior Center. There are many things that can be done with that age group. They too are usually looking for some one to speak to them. There are other things that can be done with them as well. Things like going out and checking their smoke detectors, replacing batteries or perhaps installing new detectors for them. If you do that could you use that opportunity to talk about escape plans, kitchen safety or any of the list of fire safety topics that are a concern to that group of citizens?
Another option for providing some free information to everyone in your community could be by teaming up with any of your local utilities. Do they send out a mailing to most everyone in your area? This could be in the form of a utility bill. Would it be possible for you to send out a flyer on fire safety with each of those bills? Maybe you have an organization that sends out free information or coupons to everyone in your area. Could you add something in with that also?
Some departments are having great success in their communities by providing a citizens fire academy. Most of the general public doesn't realize what we do. A citizens fire academy brings in actual city/town residents and lets them go through some basic fire training to let them know what we go through. Could you use that same opportunity to talk to those citizens about fire safety?
Does your department provide community cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) lessons? If so could you use that opportunity to throw in some fire safety messages?
Your local libraries are another source of some great programs. Some run reading programs. This is where they are looking for local people to read their favorite book to small children. Could you read a book on fire safety?
Do you have a fire department web page? If so do you have a section on fire safety information? Many departments have great web sites that have all kinds of information on every aspect of the fire service. The Internet is also a great source of all kinds of information. If you have Internet access either at home or at the station, then you have a valuable resource at your fingertips. Use this resource to search for other ideas that you could implement in your fire safety program.
Another important way to get your message across to other groups is to build coalitions with those groups. Do your schools have councils or health advisory councils, or groups like project alliance where schools and cops talk about troubled youths. Perhaps you could work with the inhalant abuse task force, DARE officers, tobacco control groups, poison prevention groups, local SAFE Kids Coalitions (injury prevention) to just name a few. Sometimes you might have to give up time for things like a bicycle rodeo in order to get help for fire safety issues. By giving a little of your time for other people's project's helps build support for your projects.
One last aspect I would like to touch on in making your program year round would be you as the educator. Are you doing everything you can to help yourself? Are you continuing with your education? Are you attending conferences, seminars and training sessions put on locally or nationally? Your state fire academy can help. The National Fire Academy has some great programs as well. Also, are you networking with other educators either locally or nationally? There are web rings out there on fire education. There are also forums you can get involved with like Firehouse Forums Community section.
Do you subscribe to any national publications like Firehouse Magazine? They are continually running articles on fire safety education. Does your state offer certification? If so are you attempting to get certified? Everything you do to increase your professionalism will only help you and enhance your credibility with your school system and within your community.
This article just scratches the surface of things you could do to make your fire safety education program year round. Use your imagination, be creative, beg, borrow, and steal ideas from other fire departments or other sources. Do what ever it takes, but please make sure that fire safety education is not only just for Fire Prevention Week.
If you have any further ideas about what could be done or would like to bounce some ideas off of me you can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org