( I wrote this 7 years ago, much of it still applies. I updated it a bit as well.)
So much has been discussed about firefighter safety lately. We tend to think about firefighter safety as it relates to the fire ground, accountability systems, offensive vs. defensive fire strategies, rapid intervention teams, and the list goes on. What often times is left off of that list is fire prevention. Fire prevention is a key component of firefighter safety. When it appears on our list, and I have a suspicion that it will more often, we struggle with how we will deliver our programs. Quite a few departments provide "open houses". These events allow our residents an opportunity to see what equipment and apparatus we have obtained through their tax or fundraising dollars. It provides a meet and greet session between us and our residents, or as Chief Brunancini identifies them, “our customers”. They have a chance to better acquaint themselves with who is serving their community and with how we are doing what we are doing. These residents will look around, maybe ask some questions and leave with a few pamphlets. However, what did they really learn? Where do you think those pamphlets ended up? In my own department as I am sure in many others as well, we provide fire safety classes for the "little ones". For me, in the past 12 years I have seen many children from pre-school, K and 1st grades. I try to keep them engaged in fire safety exercises like "Stop, Drop and Roll", and "Stay Low and Go". I instruct them on the importance of not playing with matches and helping out with the "cool stuff" in the kitchen to stay away from the "hot stuff". That age group, typically, has a short attention span, and because of that, we need to be more creative in how we deliver the young ones our messages about fire safety. You see, they will remember the visit to the firehouse, but what about the messages? Unless they have a parent in attendance, I'm afraid it gets lost. Furthermore, we should not hold these kids responsible for delivering fire safety messages to the adults in their lives. So where do we start? Our children are the next generation. What are we doing to prepare them to be fire safe? How do we get the adults in their lives more proactive in fire prevention? We are in a unique period of time, not only in the fire service, but as a Nation. We are currently dealing with five generations of adults. Never have we had to deal with as many as we do now. That is a great challenge, especially when we talk about fire prevention. Each of these generations come with their own unique and interesting characteristics. The five generations are the Traditionalists; the Baby Boomers; the Generation Xers; the Generation Yers aka the "Millennials" and the Linksters (The “Facebook crowd”). For the sake of this blog, I will not go into great detail and identify each and every characteristic of each and every generation. I will try to identify those characteristics which I believe to be important and beneficial of each generation as it relates to the delivery of adult education in fire safety. For our "traditionalists", we need to understand that while they may not be proficient with the internet, they are not clueless about it either. They appreciate the printed material, but it should be in larger type and darker print. Be respectful, polite, and pleasant with this group. If possible, engage a senior or two in your delivery. This will provide someone with whom this group of learners can identify with. This will also help you be perceived as someone who is credible and indeed will better your program. For our "baby boomers" (1944-1964, depending on who you believe.), we need to display that we do care. There are approximately 70 million baby boomers out there. That is, potentially, a great audience to have. As with any audience, we must maintain their interest. What we need to understand about the "boomers", is that they enjoy making a social contribution. They also have a difficult time with trusting someone over the age of thirty, as they are suspicious with those in authority. Having said that, most have yet to placed in positions of authority themselves. They do find personal satisfaction in their work. Our Generation Xers are very much the independent group of individuals. These were the "latch key" kids. Less than fifty percent of this generation were raised in a single parent environment. This generation also relies on their friends much more than in previous generations discussed. They are not afraid to have open and straightforward discussions and they expect to be heard. Xers will not seek out their instructors outside of the classroom. I believe that I am part of both the "boomers" and the "Xers". Generation Y and the “Linksters” include those who were born between 1981 and 1995 and 1995 and after, respectively. Both parents worked, they grew up with technological advances and expect technology to be an integral part of what is very important to them, and that is communication. In fact, some would say that communication is a cornerstone of these generations. They have always had the benefits of MTV, the computers, the laptops, cds, dvds, video games and power point from their very beginning. The “Linksters” are social media savvy and environmentally friendly. When we think of potential outreach these generations, they most likely total over 60 million people. What a great audience to capture, especially in fire prevention! Fire prevention is so very important. In the volunteer departments I have served in, we realized the need and the importance of fire prevention and formed a "Fire Prevention Committees". Truth be told, we always knew the necessity and importance of fire prevention. We just didn't follow through very well. This committee isn't a large one. I didn't expect it to be. This group won't be throwing ladders, stretching hand lines or supply lines, or anything else that would lend to the glamour and prestige that we perceive firefighting to be. The challenge is to focus on what we will be doing as a group and that is saving lives. That is what it is all about! In fact, our mission statement in the fire service is to save lives, protect property and preserve the environment. An added benefit is that fire prevention may potentially lead to a decrease in firefighter line of duty injuries and fatalities. That is my theory anyway. How do we get that "buy in" from our firefighters that fire prevention is a key component of saving lives? Where do we start? From my perspective, I believe that we need to focus on the many generations we have to deal with on a daily basis. Many of these generations are found in our own departments. We also have many of these generations in our response districts. I am not here to tell you how to run your fire prevention committee, battalion, division or whatever you may call it. I will suggest to you that potential success rests among the generations. For the sake of space, I could not go into great detail about the many generations we serve, protect and work with. I do encourage you to learn more about them, though. You may not agree with all of them, or completely understand them, but you should be aware that they are out there and be mindful of them. I suspect though, that when we put the various examples of generations from our departments out there in the public and reach out to the various generations of the public we serve, great things, life saving things will occur!
Until next time, "Stay Safe!"