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Fire safety education is not the most popular part of the fire service, but probably is one of the most important. It can save lives and property as much, if not more than, suppressing a fire after it starts.
Every fire department, whether volunteer, combination or career, should have a designated person in charge of fire and life safety education. The professional title is Fire & Life Safety Educator. The term fire and life safety means the fire service is not only involved with fire, but other life safety issues such as exits, emergency lighting, automated external defibrillators (AEDs), fire extinguishers and more. An example is carbon monoxide. It is a product of combustion, but even without a fire, you can still have a carbon monoxide problem in the home from heating devices, cooking appliances or portable gas equipment. Many times, the fire service gives safety talks about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors – something that can save a life even when there is no fire.
Provide correct information
The public believes that members of the fire service are the experts when it comes to protecting people from the dangers of fire and other life-threatening hazards and if a situation arises, they will be able to handle it. And the public is right. The fire service handles incidents that involve hazards every day, whether it is a fire, medical emergency, traffic accident, hazardous materials release, water rescue or a natural disaster, to name a few.
Many times, people approach firefighters and ask how they can make their home safe from fire, what type of smoke alarm is best, why children don’t wake up when a smoke alarm activates or whether they should sleep with bedroom doors open or closed. Because we handle emergencies every day, people expect us to know the answers. That, however, is not necessarily the case or the information being provided is incorrect or conflicting. The reason is many firefighters receive little or no formal training in fire and life safety or they are not updated on a regular basis.
Every member of the fire service has a duty to be a fire and life safety educator. You should know how a residential sprinkler system operates, the difference in the types of smoke alarms, sources of carbon monoxide and home exit drills. You may be approached on or off duty to talk to a church group, social club or just by someone in line at the grocery checkout.
Delivering a consistent message
One person should be in charge of how and what messages should be delivered when it comes to fire and life safety education. That is the function of the Fire & Life Safety Educator. Usually, that person will be the one giving the talks or conducting classes. But that person should also be educating personnel within the department about fire safety. That way, everyone is delivering the same message.
The material you present will differ for each group. Classes for children will be different than for senior citizens as well as different for businesses. One area that is overlooked is the average citizen. Many classes are provided for the very young and for senior citizens, but not for people in the middle. Make sure your fire and life safety education efforts cover all age groups.
I have been teaching fire and life safety classes since 1982. Recently, because of budget constraints, our fire and life safety education position was eliminated. As public information officer (PIO), I took up those duties and perform both public information and education for our department (see “How Important Is a Designated PIO?” in the January issue of Firehouse®). It is a natural fit and easily justifies the position. PIOs usually deliver fire safety messages or give talks to the community. When I am not performing duties as a PIO, I am usually out in the community teaching fire and life safety. If I am teaching and an emergency call comes in needing a PIO, I respond. When I set up a class or talk, I advise the people that I am on call for emergencies and may have to respond if needed. People understand emergencies come first.
In my next column, I will discuss what the qualifications of a fire and life safety educator are and how fire and life safety education saves lives.
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