Fire Prevention Week 2013 begins Sunday and fire departments should be preparing to get out in the public and take advantage of the attention the longest-running public health observance on record will bring you; at the very least it is an opportunity for good public relations and to place your department on the map. Sadly, it's an opportunity constantly wasted by the fire service every year, and every year the fate of citizens in our communities are sealed as we continually miss the opportunity to save lives.
It was written, although I could never find the author: “Never underestimate the power of the local fire department to influence change within the community.” I have found this one of the most factual and meaningful statements of any I have ever heard about the fire service and about being a firefighter. Just because of who we are we can make a difference and this Fire Prevention Week is your time.
This call goes out to you, individual firefighter. Don’t wait for your company officer to initiate it (sadly), or your department to take the lead. For that one week, I challenge you to make an effort to reach out to the public; whether at a scheduled community event, a station tour, your children’s school, or a simple visit to the supermarket to pick up the station’s dinner ingredients; stop looking at the floor or standing in the shadows quietly. You have the badge of public trust! You have instant admiration and the attention of the public who trusts you with their family and lives. Start shaking hands and having conversations and you will quickly learn that the difference you can make will last more than this one week.
I have contended that a firefighter who is actively involved in fire prevention will save more lives in a year then most firefighters will in a career. Again, I am not referring to being active in fire prevention by going out and conducting “official” fire prevention activities, although that helps, but taking the fire prevention responsibility to heart and taking advantage of every opportunity to talk to the citizens you protect about how to stay safe – a fundamental responsibility of the fire service I should think. By getting out of the stations and into the public, becoming known to your citizens, and developing rapport, a difference can be made and lives saved. Not just by those large-scale public relations events, but by simply saying, “Hey, good afternoon, do you have a smoke detector?”
Don’t think it works? Don’t think that lives can be saved through prevention – that it is a waste of time? Here are just some factual examples of lives saved by firefighters and fire departments who were active in their community:
Life Saved – A frail, older female adult of 100 pounds had routine blood pressure screenings with an involved firefighter over the previous few months in which her pressures were consistently in the normal range. However, during one screening the individual firefighter, who had rapport with this older female, alarmingly discovered her blood pressure to be 230/140.
Because of the established rapport and familiarity between the firefighter and the female, she willingly admitted that the doctor had placed her on new medications and that she was confused and just stopped taking them, but that she felt fine. Luckily, she trusted the firefighter enough to allow him to place a call to her son and inform him of what was discovered. The son immediately took his mother to her physician, and with her now being compliant with her medications, her subsequent pressures during future screenings returned to normal.
Life saved – During monthly blood pressure screenings, an older female adult’s blood pressures were routinely hypertensive; however, because she “felt fine” she refused to see her physician. As rapport and trust developed between the firefighter and the female, along with her friends who also attended the event, the female was “pressured” to see a doctor. Weeks later, that female thanked the fire department because upon seeing her doctor it was discovered that she had a developing heart condition, which was caught early and now being treated.
Property/lives saved – An engine company participated in a school fire prevention program and covered the simple basics; such as, calling 911, EDITH, and the meeting place. All simple topics any individual firefighter should be educated on and be prepared to speak about.
A week later, a parent wrote to the local paper thanking the fire department because the family had a fire in their attic and the child, who was at the firefighters’ presentation, took charge and directed the family on what to do and got her brother out of the house and to the meeting place.
Property/lives saved – A local fire department received a grant to purchase home fire extinguishers to address the residential cooking fire problems they were having, along with smoke detectors. As part of the grant program, a dedicated firefighter took on the responsibility and conducted fire extinguisher training and installed the fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in the homes of his residents who had requested them. Once inside the home for the installs, a fire safety discussion was conducted, which covered basic and common fire prevention topics in the very place the leading location of fires occur today – the residential home. Results:
- An installed fire extinguisher and the resident’s knowledge on how to use it were used to put out a small kitchen fire prior to the fire departments arrival and confined the fire to the stove with no extension.
- An installed fire extinguisher and the resident’s knowledge on how to use it were used to extinguish a fire in a small two-family duplex. The fire was in the closet containing the hot water heater and was extinguished prior to the fire department’s arrival. While the closet suffered extensive fire damage, the fire did not spread, thus sparing the rest of the residents as well as the adjoining home of the duplex.
- Firefighters were thanked by a resident who admittedly fell asleep while cooking and was then woken by the newly installed smoke detector, which allowed her to remove the smoking frying pan from the stove before ignition.
Fire prevention works! If you wear this badge and you want to save lives and make a difference then you can – right now today! This does not mean elaborate programs with studies and analysis! It means being active, it means being educated, it means getting out of your station and having simple conversations and developing rapport.
You, the individual firefighter, can save a life(s). Use this Fire Prevention Week and commit to educating yourself on your community health/fire/safety problems and start shaking hands and introducing yourself and spreading the word. The absolute fact is that one of those people you meet is a possible future statistic and you can be the difference in preventing that.
It’s up to you, individual firefighter! Will you continue to let the residents who need you and depend on you walk on by or will you stop them and start saying, “Hello!”?
DANIEL BYRNE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a firefighter/paramedic, with the Burton, SC, Fire District. A 20-year veteran of the emergency services, he holds both an associate and bachelors degree in fire science, is a National Fire Academy Alumni, and a veteran of the Desert Shield/Storm war with the U.S. Marine Corps. Daniel is the recipient of local and state awards for public educations and relations. Daniel is moderator of the Fire Prevention and Life Safety forums on Firehouse. You can reach Daniel by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.