When looking at today’s fire and life safety efforts within the fire service, I believe we need ask ourselves, are we doing everything we can to improve the service we deliver to our communities? Across the nation different departments deliver different programs, some are progressive and have an impact on the audience that they’re targeting, some are just a status quo program so the department can say that they’re doing fire and life safety programs for their community. Whether good or bad at least some sort of a program is being done, that is if you’re a pessimist by nature.
First we must learn why we are at this point, why fire and life safety? Fire prevention has a long history and dates back to the early 1920s when President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls. This proclamation was implemented to raise awareness in memory of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Even great leaders at the time realized that fire was very detrimental and some type of program needed to be put into place to recognize this problem. Now, with a history lesson behind us, let us concentrate on the modern world and how prevention programs are being done today.
As you continue reading, there will be a lot of questions that you can ask yourself to help evaluate the programs that your department is providing to schools, community centers and other civic organizations. First let’s start with the basic public fire and life safety, which can include Exit Drills In The Home (EDITH), smoke alarms, basic home safety, etc. Is your department doing these on a regular basis? If not, then you’re missing the whole purpose of why you exist as a fire department. With that said, I’ll agree to a certain extent that we as a fire service will always have fires to go to, but as fire detection technology gets better and education efforts increase then the number of fires that we are going to are going to decrease. Fire departments exist to maintain the three priorities that have been driven into us since we all went through our Firefighter 1 class. Those are life safety, fire extinguishment, and property conservation, so it stands to reason that since life safety is priority number one then fire prevention programs are important to what we do and how and what kind of material is being delivered.
Getting deeper into the issue, let us address the age-old way of how we, the fire service, deliver fire prevention to the community. I’m sure there are many fire departments that have excellent programs and evaluate these programs for effectiveness on a regular basis, but there are just as many departments that don’t do any type of prevention and if they do then it’s looked at as a burden, something that gets in the way of their all day nap time. We are tasked to save lives and property; fire prevention is the easiest and most cost effective way to make this happen. There are many programs offered through the National Fire Academy that address public fire education programs, delivery and evaluation for those who want to be effective in this arena. If you’re not addressing target areas, creating programs for these hazards, implementing the program and evaluating it — then you have homework to do! Are we teaching the right material in our programs? Is the audience that we’re teaching it to understanding the material? What new techniques can we teach to help battle reduced escape times in modern constructed homes? These are all questions we need to answer before moving forward in our education efforts.
When looking at new research and data as it relates to modern construction, it’s evident that old prevention programs may not be working anymore. Legacy verses modern construction, compartment verses open floor plan, 15 minute verses three minute escape times, these are things we need to be addressing to our groups. These topics are especially important to children, helping them understand the importance of keeping their door closed and sheltering in place if a secondary means of egress is not an option. To this day I still see departments teaching the old method of checking a door and crawling down a smoke filled hallway. Can small children wake up to a sounding smoke alarm, process what is going on and formulate a plan based on whether the door is hot or not and is it safe enough to escape through another room in the house? Some grown adults can’t do that in the moment of chaos, let alone a child. With escape times being documented at three minutes or less, do we really want to put people in that situation or teach them new methods of possibly a safer escape? It’s not my place to say what method is the best but rather to question, is what we’re teaching the best outcome for the occupant? Just like building construction has changed over the years, so should the programs that address fire and life safety in modern homes.
I can only speak from experience of being around departments during my years of service when it comes to observing fire and life safety programs in action. Some departments were pretty progressive and had a genuine interest in presenting programs and some were just plain out lazy and complained when asked to complete this simple task. So I challenge you to look at how you’re doing in providing fire and life safety programs and information to your residents. It’s simple. Ask yourself, is today’s fire and life safety programs working for you?