Fire Prevention..."It Is Not My Job!"

Sept. 12, 2006
During a recent fire officer class, students were dreading the weeklong topic of fire prevention. An activity which many felt was beyond the scope of their duties as company officers.

During a recent fire officer class, students were dreading the weeklong topic of fire prevention. The soon-to-be company officers were struggling with the notion that they had to spend a week learning about fire prevention. An activity which many felt was beyond the scope of their duties as company officers. The prevention of fires through education, engineering, and code enforcement were all duties assigned to another division. After all, we were hired to fight fires not prevent them! "It is not our job to prevent fires or do fire safety education."

These types of attitudes and beliefs and group norms can be found part of the culture of many fire departments. This is not just the large urban departments that face this. This can be the norm in departments ranging from career to volunteer departments of all sizes. As fire protection professionals we need to continue to focus on the best way to provide service to our customers in the most economical fashion. Preventing fires is far more economical than suppressing fires.

The best course to perform this critical service is through building a fire prevention collation with the community. This is best accomplished by utilizing every member of the fire department, not just the fire prevention division. This community partnership starts at the very top of the organization. This could be the mayor of the community or president of the fire district board. With the support of the governing body, the fire chief becomes the key leader in the organization to champion the fire prevention efforts. Now the task at hand is to get all the other members of the department to have a cultural shift to understand that fire prevention is everyone's job!

This struggle is similar to our earlier discussion of getting company officer students to realize the need to have fire prevention as part of their duties. Chief Berkowsky of Evanston. IL, uses the following parity of "The Top 10 Firefighter Reasons Why Fire Prevention is Not Interesting to Me." We thought it would be fitting for this article to share this with our added commentary.

10. We don't even have a fire prevention bureau.
Exactly! This is the reason why fire prevention is everyone's job. If you don't have a fire prevention bureau, you are it! It is the reason to do it!

9. No sense of accomplishment.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions of fire prevention. Granted it may be difficult to measure the number of fires prevented, but what about the completion of a building with automatic suppression and then responding to a fire at that location to find the fire held by the sprinkler system. Or the struggle to pass an ordinance for standpipes and then once it has passed see how the standpipes positively impact the fire department operations.

8. Not very challenging stuff!
Spend a day with the person designated as the fire department's ire marshal. There is nothing more challenging than sitting in a meeting with developers, attorneys, and architects and explaining the need for a project to have adequate fire department access for suppression operations, the need for standpipes in a high-rise building and the importance of sprinklers for both occupant and firefighter safety. There is only one opportunity to make sure there is enough access for fire department operations and adequate hydrants to do our job. The challenge at hand is to be well prepared to discuss the issue and explain how the requirements positively impact firefighter and occupant safety during a fire.

7. You're putting us out of business.
Fire prevention reduces the number and severity of fires. One of the purposes of fire prevention is to eliminate hazardous conditions. Many of these conditions, if not eliminated, would cause severe injury or death to firefighters in a fire condition. The fire prevention bureau has many customers; firefighters are one of them!

6. The fire protection systems are too complicated to learn.
The fire protection systems are evolving with technology to provide enhanced protection. They are there to help firefighters do there job in a safer manner. This is no different than how our fire apparatus, fire equipment has become more complicated. Even our daily routines in the fire service have changed. Some may even remember the days before having to check e-mail or do reports on a complicated computer. Learning the fire protection systems will only help firefighters perform their tasks during an emergency incident.

5. It's boring...
The changes in technology combined with need to build buildings in a more economical fashion have escalated challenges for the fire protection professional. This combined with the evolution of sprinklers to meet the demands of the consumer have created a work environment within the fire department that has become one of the most technical areas that is constantly changing. Trying to keep up with the latest fire protection products and building methods alone is keeps one interest.

4. It won't help me.
Participating in fire prevention activities will help everyone. It provides the opportunity to interact with the public and sell the services of the fire department. The customer has the greatest of chance of encountering two individuals in a fire department. They are a paramedic or a fire inspector. If the customer has a positive interaction with the fire department it only helps the image of the fire department as a whole.

Out in the community learning the operations within each building and the building's fire protection features only helps the firefighter when he or she is called to the building for a structure fire at 0300 hours. How many fires have been fought in smokey conditions that would have been easier and safer if the firefighters had the opportunity to see the inside of the structure during safer conditions?

3. It has nothing to do with fire suppression.
Fire prevention has everything to do with suppression. The fire protection features of the building are only there to control the fire until firefighters arrive. Granted many times the systems have extinguished most of the fire, but the firefighters benefit from having safer working conditions. In those cases where the building does not have built-in fire protection features, the construction methods of the building play a critical role in the action plan developed by the incident commander to extinguish a fire in the building.

2. Liability...I don't want to get my employer in a heap of trouble.
This is a big "cop out". There is liability in everything firefighters and paramedics do. The complexity of the job has evolved significantly. Fire departments perform many functions and there is legal responsibility with each one. As with all functions of a fire department, proper training is the key component to help reduce legal exposure. Begin training firefighters about fire prevention at their level of expertise and then expand the level of complexity. Use the fire prevention bureau to teach Engine Company inspection techniques. Some departments use the train the trainer method. The shift commanders are taught the basics of fire prevention so he or she can then go and teach the rest of the shift!

1. It's not my job! This is the only reason we can agree with. Fire prevention is not your job.....IT IS EVERYONE'S JOB!

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