A Visit with Fire and Life Safety Educator Jeni Pierce from the Lake Mary Fire Department

Happy New Year!

I hope that this blog finds you well in the new year! To kick off 2010, the Playing it Safe blog will feature a fire safety educator or program monthly. Sharing program ideas and resources is a great way to help your fire safety program grow.
While on a recent trip to reveiw fire grants, I had the good fortune of meeting Fire Inspector Jeni Pierce, the Fire and Life Safety Educator from the Lake Mary (Florida) Fire Department. Jeni’s love for fire safety education, her passion for helping keep those safe in her community and her unique way in sharing the safety message, truly make Jeni an outstanding educator. What really impressed me about Jeni was the number of funding resources that she was able to obtain for her department's program. You will find some of her creative ideas for funding in this blog post as well as learn more about Jeni and her passion for fire safety.
Dayna: Jeni, tell us about yourself and how you got started in fire safety education.
Jeni: I am the Fire and Life Safety Educator for the City of Lake Mary, Florida. I have been with the Lake Mary Fire Department for 5 years and absolutely love my job! The City of Lake Mary is a small community with a resident population currently estimated at 15,000 and growing! This is up from just 9,506 residents a few years ago. With great accessibility to the Orlando area; the city is continuously attracting corporate office relocations and light manufacturing operations. In fact, Lake Mary’s daytime population exceeds 35,000. The demand for education classes is constant and is a great mix of classes for children, adults, businesses and seniors. I love the large city resources with the small town feel. I grew up as the daughter of a firefighter and am now married to a firefighter/paramedic. I guess it is true that it ‘runs in the family’! I love to interact with large groups and enjoy teaching. Being able to provide such an important message is just an added bonus.
Dayna: Have there been educators that you have looked up to throughout your career? How did they influence you?
Jeni: My father is a retired firefighter. While he reached the rank of Chief, he started as a forest ranger. When I was a child, he would work in public education on the weekends, dressing as Smokey the Bear. The way kids were in awe of him and really seemed to listen to his message stuck with me my whole life. I remember being excited as a young child any time the fire engine would visit my school.
Today, there are quite a few public educators that inspire me from both a safety standpoint and a life lesson standpoint. In Florida, we have a large association of Fire Inspectors, Fire Marshals and Educators. We are like one huge family working on legislative issues, common problems in our communities and still performing our daily jobs. There are so many who inspire me, it would be hard to name just a few. It is easy to want to be so involved when you are around such a large group of like minds who are so passionate about what they do.
Dayna: Please share with us what resources you utilize in your programming and why you find these resources useful.
Jeni: A program that seems to be extremely popular right now is portable fire extinguisher training. We currently teach this class using information and brochures, as well as both the Portable Fire Extinguisher and Workplace Safety Videos, from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). For the hands-on portion of the class, we use a portable fire extinguisher trainer purchased through the Department of Homeland Security’s Fire Prevention and Safety (FP& S) grant program. We actually have a great success story or “save”. We responded to a commercial structure fire at the United States Postal Service Distribution Center where a fire had been observed in the battery charging room. Fortunately, a postal worker activated the shunt trip and used a portable fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire. This gentleman had previously taken a Portable Fire Extinguisher training class taught by myself and another educator from our Fire Prevention Staff. He was able to maintain a clear head and prevent a much larger incident by using the training he had received and was later honored by both the Postal Service and our City Commission.
The Lake Mary Fire Department was also able to purchase Sparky’s Hazard House through the FP & S grant process. This interactive tabletop display is a great visual tool for both children and adults. I use the Hazard House in conjunction with NFPA’s Risk Watch and Remembering When curriculums. The sight of smoke and the sound of smoke alarms captivate people of all ages. The display itself is easy to transport, set up and use! The Hazard House has great programs and visual displays for fire safety, falls prevention and hazardous weather, just to name a few. The visual displays have lesson pointers or key safety tips making it very easy for any educator to use.
The key to both of these programs is having a hands-on, interactive program that is followed up by brochures or handouts that each participant can take with them to remind them of the message they learned.
Dayna: What has been the most challenging aspect of being a fire safety educator?
Jeni: That would have to be the age-old problem of never enough time in the day. With the limited budgets that so many departments are facing, it is hard to find many departments that have public educators with no other duties. Sometimes it is difficult to find ways to perform inspections and teach all of the classes requested and try to attend new training classes or write grants. One thing that has worked for me is by joining a Public Educator’s Group. This group includes an educator from each of the department’s in the county and we meet every other month to discuss problems, ideas, resources and then we all teach the Juvenile Firesetters Program together. Your peers are one of your greatest assets as an educator.
Dayna: Share with us your favorite fire safety program that your department implements and tell more about the program.
Jeni: My favorite fire safety program is our annual Fire Safety Poster Contest. Each year our department sponsors a poster contest at each of the local schools. The theme of the contest is always NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week theme and the students are encouraged to draw ideas from my safety presentation or visit the NFPA’s website for ideas. The response is always amazing! Winners are invited to a special dinner at the fire station with the firefighters, local dignitaries and business sponsors. Local businesses provide donations to pay for dinner and decorations and the students are treated to a special night of fire safety fun and awards. A Grand Prize winner is chosen and that child is allowed to be “Firefighter for a Day”. On that special day we have child-sized gear for our winner and do all kinds of fun things ending with pizza and an ice cream sundae party with all of the firefighters. We have even started implementing party themes for our awards dinner. Last year we used a rock and roll theme and used the theme “Fire Safety Rocks” with music notes and inflatable guitars. It was a big hit with the kids.
Dayna: What tips or resources can you provide for fire and life safety educators that have limited or no budgets?
Jeni: There are a ton of free resources! The Unites States Fire Administration, FEMA and the Home Safety Council offer free resources as well as handouts that can be printed and reproduced. You can apply for scholarships that include free training and free resources, such as the NFPA’s Remembering When Scholarship program. There are many national companies that offer community grants such as Firehouse Subs, Target, State Farm, Home Depot and Sam’s Club. At my department, we partner with the county SafeKids coalition and receive resources as a group as well as from other members such as the Epilepsy Foundation, who provides bike helmets and the County Health Department, who provides water safety materials. The National Fire Safety Council is also a terrific program if you have a large amount of commercial businesses in your area. Depending on your department’s policy, considering asking a local company in a field related to the program you want to teach to sponsor a “lunch and learn” or other type of event. If all else fails, make your own handout or ask other public educators to share their information. Again, your peers are one of your best resources!
Dayna:  If you could share one tip with a fire safety educator just getting their feet wet in fire safety education, what would it be?
Jeni: I think the biggest thing to remember, no matter what type, age or size of group you are facing, is to keep it simple. Most people, especially young children and our seniors, will only remember a small percentage of the information presented. That is why so many of our important safety messages are short, for example: Get Out-Stay Out, Turn Around, Don’t Drown, Click It or Ticket. Instead of a long presentation, try to make it fun and personable for your target audience.
Dayna: What are some of your favorite fire safety related sites on the web?
Jeni: NFPA.org is by far my number one site! There is no better place to find safety information or resources. There is a great section just for educators. You can sign up for the newsletter and connect with other educators across the country. There are also scholarship and grant opportunities and an interactive area for children. During Fire Prevention Week, they offer tips and even lesson plans to coincide with the annual theme. There are even small projects like “Sparky Origami” that are kid favorites!
USFA.dhs.gov is another great site to find safety information on a variety of topics. This site is a great place to find brochures, videos, online presentations and case studies.
Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have also been a personal favorite. This is such a quick way to distribute a safety message or quickly give out safety information or potential hazards such as road closures, gas leaks or the threat of severe weather. . 
Dayna: Where do you see fire safety education in ten years?
Jeni: With technology continuing to evolve, I definitely see more and more computer and interactive training. This seems to be evident in the safety trailers, training modules and computer programs already available. With that said, as technology advances, new dangers arise and the need for public education stays constant. Our safety messages are more important than ever. With construction, commercial or residential, it is imperative that we remind people of the importance of fire sprinklers and choosing the right detectors. With more reliance on technology, it is important to remind our citizens of electrical hazards. As educators we must stay on top of any new hazards and educate our citizens properly.
Dayna: Any last thoughts?
Jeni: I would just like say thanks to you for allowing me to share my thoughts and ideas on fire safety. I encourage anyone who would like additional information on free resources or who would like to share fire safety ideas to contact me.
Thank you Jeni for your time and for helping share all of the wonderful work you do. You are indeed a true asset to the fire service.
To learn more about Jeni’s fire safety programming, please contact her at (407) 585-1376 or jpierce@lakemaryfl.com.
If you have a fire safety program or idea that you would like to share with other educators, please feel free to contact me at daynark@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.
Stay safe!