A Strong Foundation For Service Delivery

Dennis Compton uses the analogy of a three-legged stool to show how a fire department is at its strongest when all of its interdependent parts work together.


The fire service has a special role in society and a unique relationship with our customers. I have spoken with many customers after we have provided service to them … sometimes months or years afterwards. It's interesting how they describe their event and the way they incorporate us into the...


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The three legs are the external service delivery elements of a fire department: fire prevention, public education and emergency response. The stool demonstrates the equal importance of each of the three elements: strong fire prevention codes and efforts, an all-risk approach to public education, and an emergency response system designed to deliver a full range of emergency services. Each element is critical and represents investments in the short- and long-term public safety infrastructure of a community.

Fire Prevention

Fire prevention codes that incorporate current practices and requirements form a foundation for safe structures and help people survive incidents that occur in those structures. It's also important that built-in protection, such as sprinkler systems and general plans review efforts, be included in the prevention equation. Fire departments should use a variety of approaches to encourage and require compliance with codes and other standards. The stool cannot support the weight of the overall mission without a strong fire prevention leg designed to maintain safety in today's communities, but, just as importantly, build safer communities for tomorrow. It's an investment in the public safety infrastructure of the community and an equally important line service delivery program.

Public Education

All-risk public education programs are a must for fire departments. It is critical that public education programs are designed around meeting the educational needs of the entire mission, not just fire safety education. In Mesa, we have committed to the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA's) Risk Watch™ program as the primary delivery system for our efforts. Mesa is proud to be a Risk Watch™ Champion Community. Our goal is to incorporate Risk Watch™ into the curriculum at the schools in Mesa within five years, and our mayor, city council and city manager have committed significant resources to meet this goal. If you are not familiar with Risk Watch™, it's time you learned about it. Risk Watch™ is designed for pre-school through eighth grade and incorporates eight lessons within a series of five modules:

  • 1. Motor vehicle safety.
  • 2. Fire and burn prevention.
  • 3. Choking, suffocation and strangulation prevention.
  • 4. Poisoning prevention.
  • 5. Falls prevention.
  • 6. Firearms injury prevention.
  • 7. Bike and pedestrian safety.
  • 8. Water safety

Risk Watch™ is based on developing effective community coalitions and does not simply rely on fire departments for its success. The local fire department is a key partner, and probably could be the catalyst for the program, but other agencies with related missions must also be actively involved. One advantage of Risk Watch™ is that the fire department does not assume the overhead costs associated with staff and materials needed to develop curriculum, validate it, keep it current, and design materials to teach and supplement the core program.

There are several models for funding Risk Watch™, and each community must select the one that fits its situation. I favor allocating funding from the fire department's operating budget to extend the baseline program and seeking alternative funding sources to go beyond the baseline program and target special hazard populations.

A public education component of a service delivery system is no more or less important than any other line service delivery program and should be somehow recognized as such in the financial expenditure plan for the system. Rather than trying to explain Risk Watch™ in its entirety in this article, I encourage you to contact the NFPA's Public Education Division for complete information at (617) 984-7285, or visit the website at www.nfpa.org.

All-risk public education using the Risk Watch™ program as the delivery mechanism is a key part of the stool. Without a strong public education leg, the stool will not support the full weight of the mission and could be dysfunctional or useless. As any firefighter would say, "The greatest rescue is the one we didn't have to make … the customers got themselves out of a situation safely because of something they had been taught prior to the incident."

Emergency Response