Trust Built S.C. Dept's Fire Prevention Program

Burton, S.C. Firefighter/Paramedic Daniel Byrne was approached by his fire chief a few years ago to start a fire prevention program and while he welcomed the challenge, there were many obstacles that stood in his way.

Coverage of Firehouse Expo 2011

"We started out with no fire prevention program, nothing," he told attendees at Firehouse Expo on Thursday. "This department didn't want anything to do with it, but over time that changed."

When he first created the program, he followed suit with what was considered the norm in the fire service. This included showing young children videos, giving them fire-themed toys and teaching them songs.

"We're doing all of those things and started getting a false sense of security," he said.

What he said was missing was the education behind the message. The kids were learning "Stop, Drop and Roll," but weren't able to comprehend what it really meant.

"Were we doing our jobs? We were entertaining them, but were we educating them? Absolutely not," he said. "If we don't provide education behind it, we're only fighting half the battle."

Now, Byrne said, he makes sure that the methods and messages are consistent.

During school programs, students are sent home with flyers listing what they learned and include homework they can do with their parents.

"People are wasting a lot of money on plastic fire hats," he said. "I buy the hats, but put a message behind them."

The department also began a "Special Friends Program" that will send a fire truck the home of a child from birth to kindergarten to promote safety.

He said that while send proper messages to children is important, fire prevention has to start at home with the parents.

"When I pull up to a fire and see a family outside carrying their eyes out because they just lost everything, I think to myself, 'There is something we should be doing differently,' " he said. "If we know where these fires are going to be, where they are most likely to occur, why shouldn't we do something to stop them?"

He said that departments must identify those neighborhoods and find something they can talk to them about and get creative to address it. Byrne also said that it is important to make them feel a sense of responsibility.

"If your citizens cannot tell you the leading cause of fire loss or the last fire death in their communities, we are failing them as a fire department."

He would make it a point to make it out to community events -- even when he was uninvited -- and connect with citizens.

"We are engaging with them and they know us and we know them," he said. "We try to find a solution to whatever they need, whatever it is fire-related or not. That's how you build trust."