Seeking Fire Safety “Solutions”

Protecting our customers from fire is one thing that all fire service organizations have in common. Although different strategies are used to reach that common goal, it remains the centerpiece of each of our mission statements.

In the United States, fires result in death for about 4,000 people each year. Another 23,000 are injured annually from fire. No matter how much the fire service has changed to incorporate other life safety services into the mission - and rightfully so - fire safety remains a key focus. An effort is underway to unite the fire safety community with traditional (and not so traditional) partners in an effort to develop specific ways that we could better protect those most at risk from fire in society. This effort is three years old, and it's about time we all knew more about it.

3 Populations Targeted

In April 1999, a symposium called "Solutions 2000" was conducted in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of the North American Coalition for Fire and Life Safety Education, a loosely organized alliance of fire safety advocates. The goal was to examine the unique fire safety challenges of those who cannot take timely life-saving action to protect themselves in the event of a fire. Target groups for examination by the symposium participants included:

  • Children under 5 years old.
  • Adults over 65 years old.
  • People with disabilities.

"Solutions 2000" brought together approximately 100 participants from a broad range of perspectives, including representatives from non-fire service organizations, some of which specialize in advocacy for the three groups targeted for examination. Yes, representatives from communities of concern were actually present to participate in facilitated discussions about how we could best protect these groups from fire, and how they could take action to protect themselves as well. "Solutions 2000" resulted in a document that outlined the findings and recommended actions developed at the symposium. The document was widely distributed and provided significant guidance to any organization with a mission that included fire safety.

A similar group was invited to attend the follow-up symposium in April 2001 to revisit the issues and determine if "Solutions 2000" had resulted in any positive actions to better protect the targeted groups. This symposium, called "Beyond Solutions 2000," added "meat to the skeleton" built at the original "Solutions 2000" symposium in 1999. Many of the same people attended the 2001 event, but there were new faces in the crowd as well. Like its predecessor, "Beyond Solutions 2000" will also yield a published document containing findings and actions specific to each of the three targeted groups.

But in addition, the Solutions Planning Team conducted a follow-up meeting on Oct. 31, 2001, and identified five "Collective Recommendations" that cut across all three targeted groups. These five intervention strategies were identified as highly significant by each of the three focus groups; the very young, the elderly and the disabled. The five recommendations are action-oriented and measurable. The organizations represented on the "Beyond Solutions 2000" Planning Team will, in varying ways, and to varying degrees, address them as priorities within their organization's mission.

It Works

The two "Solutions" events exemplify what is possible when people with a common cause share their brainpower, experience and resources to explore challenges and develop common strategies together. The events were conducted by the North American Coalition for Fire and Life Safety Education in partnership with the annual Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) Dinner, and most of the "Solutions" attendees were present at the CFSI Dinners. The work of the "Solutions" attendees was strongly endorsed by the leadership of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. The U.S. Fire Administration/Federal Emergency Management Agency (USFA/FEMA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and its Center for High Risk Outreach, the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA), Kidde International, the AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), the American Red Cross, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Foundation, the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA), Palmer and Cay Insurance Inc., the Phoenix and Mesa fire departments in Arizona, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) contributed in-kind and/or financially to conducting the "Solutions" events or the preparation and distribution of the findings.

Recommended Actions

The "Collective Recommendations" that emerged from "Beyond Solutions 2000" are as follows:

  1. Identify or establish a center or consortium of centers that will serve to bring national focus to the fire problem and recommendations for improved safety for young children, older adults and people with disabilities.
    The center will perform the following functions: provide a central clearinghouse for information, including standardized messages, programs, data, research, etc.; facilitate strategic planning with existing coalitions and organizations having a shared mission; support surveillance of losses and risks/patterns; establish screening or a standardization process for messages and programs; encourage joint action through an alliance of organizations; fully involve engineers so that environmental and technical solutions are supported; advocate widespread use of available engineered solutions, e.g., firesafe cigarettes and quick-release burglar bars.
  2. Evaluate and employ alternative methodologies and mediums to better educate the public and to promote actions that improve their level of fire safety, both in rural and urban settings. Specifically address the fire problem; installation of early warning, detection and alarm devices; installation of fire sprinklers; and a practiced escape plan.
  3. Promote the installation of fire sprinklers in places where people live, work and assemble by implementing a strategy to make the costs more affordable; educate the public on benefits of fire sprinkler systems in general; educate public officials regarding technology; identify funding help and incentives; and identify, showcase and recognize communities that have successfully implemented programs resulting in increased installation of residential fire sprinklers.
  4. Influence the development and advocate the adoption and enforcement of codes and standards that support specific measures designed to improve fire safety for young children, older adults and people with disabilities.
  5. Support research and collection of data regarding behaviors, environmental factors and personal factors so that products and delivery systems designed to improve fire safety can be validated.

Specific emergency response and firefighter training issues were discussed at the symposium and are addressed within the content of the detailed findings.

You'll Want to Know This

I didn't write this article to communicate the details of what emerged from the "Solutions" efforts. That will be done when the findings of "Beyond Solutions 2000" are published in the near future. I thought it was important to increase the overall awareness of "Solutions" for several reasons:

  1. I know you're interested and that you care…you always do!
  2. We all have important roles in protecting the very young, the elderly and the disabled from fire.
  3. Fire service organizations at all levels, including local fire departments, deserve to have this important information so that they can play a part in bringing the recommendations of "Beyond Solutions 2000" to life in their own planning processes and programs.

It is important that you review the complete "Beyond Solutions 2000" findings rather than only the "Collective Recommendations." It contains information that will be educational to your organizations and make your fire safety programs more effective.

Everyone Can Benefit

Whether developing better codes and built-in protection; supporting public education and community outreach; addressing emergency response considerations; analyzing internal training needs; or enhancing the level of organizational support dedicated to protecting the very young, the elderly or the disabled from becoming victims of fire, the results of "Beyond Solutions 2000" will be helpful to you.

You may obtain more information about receiving the Final Report of Findings by contacting Peg Carson of Carson Associates Inc. at 540-347-7488; Jim Dalton of the National Fire Sprinkler Association Inc. at 540-937-3466; or Sharon Gamache of the NFPA's Center for High Risk Outreach at 617-770-3000. The report will be available soon.

There is no doubt that the group that brought us "Beyond Solutions 2000" will meet again in a few years to review and evaluate their progress. Let's do our part to help implement the recommended actions and strategies to benefit our own communities and enhance the safety of our nations.

Progress in these areas will contribute to a documented reduction in the severe toll fire claims, especially among the most vulnerable of our people.

Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire chief in Mesa, AZ. He previously served as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department. During a career that spans over 31 years, Compton has been involved in many fire service and civic organizations. He is a well-known speaker and is the author of many publications, including a series of books titled When In Doubt, Lead. He is the immediate past chair of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association, the chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee and serves on the board of the National Fire Protection Association. Compton is a charter member of the Arizona Fire Service Hall of Fame.