As a Company Officer you set the tone for so many things in your firehouse. You contribute to the cultural norms, attitudes, and other acceptable practices. As someone once told me, if it’s not important to you, it won’t be important to them. So where do we, where do you, fall in the responsibility of community risk reduction? I recently took a class at the National Fire Academy and I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about going up there for it. I was worried it was going to be a snorefest full of nothing but fire prevention that I felt really didn’t apply to me. How quickly I realized I was wrong. I was able to soon appreciate just how critical community risk reduction is and how important it is to cultivate a culture of this in our firehouses.
So what is our responsibility as Company Officers? First you have to create buy-in. You have to change the mindset that may exist out there in your stations. Many of the programs that exist in our fire departments come from our prevention bureau. Often times (and I have been guilty) we in operations see these programs as solely the responsibility of the life safety educator or other fire prevention staff. There are silos that exist within our own organizations that need to be torn down. I have a department of 500 uniformed personnel serving a population of roughly 265,000 people. We have one life safety educator in our fire prevention bureau. That is a lot to put on one person, especially if the job is done correctly. We need to start looking at it from the position that we have 500 life safety educators out there. We have many more than we realize, we just need to take a proactive approach and share the responsibility. As the company officer you need to constantly communicate to your members how important is to take an active role in their community. Communicate just how important it is to take part in events in your district that keep your fire department in the public eye.
We all swore an oath to protect life and property. I hear all the time, and I firmly believe, that the citizen is the number one priority on the fireground. But is this the only time we like to say this? Is when we roll out the door for fires the only time we are using the word citizens first? Someone asked me this question one day and it got me thinking. They need to be our priority off the fireground as well. Regardless of the programs that your department has or doesn’t have you have the ability to set the tone as the company level, and then maybe that tone will spread through your battalion, your shift, and then your whole department. Focus on the things that are within your control. As I stated before, we have one life safety educator, so the company officers and firefighters need to help lighten the load by initiating events on their own.
Do you have schools in your district? Go take a trip to the principal’s office, for good reason this time, and ask to come read to the kids and talk about fire safety. Sit down and have lunch with different age groups and discuss ways they can keep their family safe in the event of a fire. Take a visit to the local hospital and talk with burn patients. Constantly paying a visit to an elderly population that is falling, having cooking fires, and more? Develop a PowerPoint if you don’t already have a canned one and request to go over there and put on a short 30-minute class to help them out. Split your crew up and inspect their living spaces for loose rugs, handrails, or other faulty equipment that may be leading to them falling. I have found something as simple as moving the location of the telephone has helped.
At your next grocery store visit keep someone at the truck. Open up all the compartment doors and pull a few pieces of equipment off the truck. When visitors approach, talk with them about what we do and how we may search their homes in the event of a fire. Ask them if they have an escape route planned. Do they have working smoke detectors and if not, how to get them. Lastly is the smoke detectors. I realize not all departments have funding to buy them, or may not have a program rolled out at all. But if you do, and your department is purchasing them for the citizens, USE THEM!! If you are on a medical run and you hear that low battery chirp, ask them if they have a battery to replace it with. Are there other detectors in the home that need to be replaced? Maybe they don’t have any and instead of going right back in service we take an extra five minutes to install a detector in their home. That little bit of extra time could potentially save someone’s life.
If I could sum this short article up into one word it would be ownership. Take ownership in your responsibility as a life safety educator, because that’s what we are. It is a part of everyone’s responsibility as a firefighter. Take ownership of the programs you can control and even start. Don’t kick everything down the road to the fire prevention bureau. Even more, don’t wait for prevention to come to you. Set a tone in your stations that being involved in the community builds trust, keeps citizens safe and will ultimately build a good relationship between the fire department and the citizens they serve. Remember, if it’s not important to you, it won’t be important to them. Ask your crew about programs they may want to see happen or ways that they can get involved. Include them in the decision making process and you will begin to change the mindset if that is what’s needed in your fire stations. Approach community risk reduction with a positive attitude and take ownership today.