Fire Chiefs Stress Need to Connect With Community

While they came from different backgrounds and supervise responders in equally as diverse jurisdictions, three fire chiefs offered similar suggestions to Firehouse Expo attendees last week.

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All stressed the importance of getting out into the community to educate people about what the fire department does.

Miami-Dade Fire/Rescue Chief William Bryson said when he first started going to civic organizations, he was stunned by residents' reactions.

"They told me they were not aware of a problem."

He added that the department appears to have more public support since he and other officers make the effort to attend neighborhood meetings.

"We have 28 cities in our tax district. It's important that they can see what's happening in their area."

Battalion chiefs have become regular attendees at both formal and informal get-togethers. In Las Vegas, firefighters also are out mingling with the public -- at health clubs and grocery stores.

Fire Chief Mike Myers said stores and gyms are perfect venues for crews to tell people about their jobs. "Where do you find people -- at stores and gyms!"

With heart attacks and strokes the top killers of firefighters, he encourages personnel to stay fit. He isn't hesitant to tell residents who complain about the staggering statistics.

And, why not do a little PR while others on the crew are shopping, he said.

In Anne Arundel County, Md., responders also are becoming part of the communities they serve.

Fire Chief Robert Ray said the job of informing the public isn't just his responsibility. Every member of the department is encouraged to interact with citizens.

His department, unlike the others, is combination.

All spoke of the importance of maintaining high training standards regardless of how tough things get.

Ray said in-station training is becoming more commonplace. "Having it in the stations is cutting down on travel costs."

Also, all officers in Anne Arundel whether career or volunteer, must meet the same standards, he said, adding that crews often train together.

If the volunteer chief doesn't meet the criteria, he or she wears a red helmet signaling they hold the rank of a captain at an incident scene.

Ray said all understand the importance of keeping their skills toned.

Likewise, Myers said he believes it's his responsibility to keep his responders "moving in the right direction."