By Robert Tutterow
The nation’s annual Fire Prevention Week was last month. Most fire departments probably participated in some type of fire prevention activity. What does this have to do with firefighter safety? Simply stated, a prevented fire brings the potential for a fireground line-of-duty death (LODD) or injury to ZERO.
This fact was recognized when the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, working together with the fire service to prevent LODDs and injuries, developed the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. Initiative #14 states: “Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program.” And, Initiative #15 states: “Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.”
Since the Life Safety Initiatives were developed almost nine years ago, the fire prevention/public education discussion has evolved to overall community risk reduction programs. This is an output of the acknowledging that the fire service responds to far more nonfire incidents than actual fires.
The decreasing number of fires, combined with many fire departments losing their gravitas with the body politic, begs that every week become a fire prevention/risk reduction week. Fire departments must remain visible in their communities and add value to their services. Risk reduction is a natural fit.
Seek Out Teaching Moments
There are many ways the fire service can make every week a risk reduction week. We need to look for teaching moments. They do not have to be born out of formalized programs. For example, almost every response can be a brief teaching moment. The key to a teaching moment success story at an incident is to always understand that we provide a service to a customer, not a victim.
I experienced a teaching moment earlier this year when I was invited to a birthday party at a local fire station of a combination fire department. The party was for twin boys who were celebrating their fourth birthday. There were about 15 other four-year olds attending, along with an equal number of parents and grandparents. This fire department was fortunate to have a community meeting room to host the party. The firefighters on duty were most professional in showing their equipment and instructing the four-year-olds what to do in case of fire. They appeared to really enjoy interacting with the kids. I suspect the adults also had a learning moment. In fact, the tax-paying (and voting) adults realized that firefighters do not sit around watching television, waiting for the next call. It could be said that it was an educational moment disguised as a birthday party.
Although many fire stations do not have community meeting rooms, it is incumbent on every fire department to find these teaching moments within their communities.
There are municipal fire departments that now require their members to participate in community service projects. These projects should have some correlation to risk reduction. This concept is not always popular with firefighters. The knee-jerk reaction is to say, “That’s not our job.” Yet community service is a requirement or at least an expectation for employees in many corporations.
Volunteer firefighters are inherently providing a noncompensable community service. Yet they have potential resources available to them that are not typically found in career departments. This includes firefighters who have aged out of active emergency response and fire department auxiliary groups. People in these categories are often anxious to help spread the risk reduction message.
You may wonder why this topic is in an apparatus and equipment publication. Here is the connection. Firefighters love to show off their apparatus and equipment. But, we can do more. We need to start demonstrating our equipment.
I spent a few days visiting the West Midlands (United Kingdom) Fire Brigade in 1989. To this day, I remember all the product demonstrations I witnessed at several fire stations. It seems that approach might provide for several teaching moments. Could there be opportunities to combine training and equipment demonstrations?
Building Good Will
Risk reduction is a service that any fire department can embrace. In addition to the ultimate benefit of preventing harm, it builds goodwill within the community. Another good thing about risk reduction is that it is not too expensive. If a fire department identifies a risk reduction program that requires funding, many local businesses and larger corporations may be a willing to partner-both financially and with people. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has information on its Web site to help fire departments determine the best way to approach their communities. One special feature of the NFPA can be found at www.sparkyswishlist.org. Sparky’s Wish List is a registry of needs (like a bridal registry) where fire departments can list their needs and distribute the lists to the appropriate organizations and businesses in their communities.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).