Just days ago, hundreds of our colleagues in the fire service gathered in Tampa, Florida on the 10th anniversary of the conference—commonly known as Tampa I—that produced the 16 Life Safety Initiatives that focused on reducing firefighter deaths and injuries. The attendees at this year’s conference—which has been “tagged” as Tampa II—met to reassess those strategies (just as any good Incident Commander reassesses their initial Incident Action Plan) and make recommendations for their continued improvement.
When it comes to preventing fires—which in my mind is the #1 way to reduce firefighter deaths and injuries!—I’ve already started hearing the same “worn out song” coming across the radio. I’m sure you’re familiar with these titles:
- “We’ve Got to Quit Paying Lip-service to Fire Prevention”
- “Fire Prevention Should be a Part of Every Firefighters Job”
- “Fire Prevention is Always the First Program that Gets Cut During Budget Reductions”
All very true. But continuing to sing the “same old song” is not going to change anything. And neither is delivering that same song using the same “radio.” We’ve got to change how we work to have a positive influence on people and their behavior when it comes to fire.
With all of the efforts that we presently put forth to prevent fires, consider these excerpts from NFPA’s document, An Overview of the
U.S. Fire Problem:
- In 2012, home structure fires caused 83% of the civilian fire deaths and 78% of the civilian fire injuries. Homes include one-and two-family homes, apartments, townhouses, row houses, and manufactured homes.
- Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries [And has been for many years]. Unattended cooking is the leading factor contributing to these fires. Frying is the leading type of activity associated with cooking fires. More than half of all cooking fire injuries occurred when people tried to fight the fire themselves.
- Smoking has been the leading cause of home fire deaths for decades. Two-thirds (66%) of the home smoking material fire fatalities resulted from fires originating with a) upholstered furniture, or b) mattresses or bedding. Seven percent of fatal home smoking fire victims whose smoking materials started the fire were using medical oxygen.
We’ve not had a significant impact on preventable fires with our current methodologies. To paraphrase a popular management mantra for change these days, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
The Current Paradigm
Our current public fire and injury prevention efforts are predominantly “one-way” communication: We deliver a message with the expectation that the recipients of that message will act upon the information. We deliver that message via many means including:
- Static Displays in conjunction with other community events, e.g., art festivals, 5K races, and the like.
- Public Service Announcements over television and radio
- School programs for children in grades K-5
Our current fire-related data indicates that these efforts are not being effective, so what can we do?
A New Paradigm
We have to develop and adopt new methodologies that actively engage the members of our community where they live and work and play. And we have to create delivery methodologies that reach out to people 24/7/365 so that they get the messages when they want and how they want.
Enter social media. If we truly want to connect with people in order to get our fire safety and prevention messages for maximum effectiveness, we’ve got to become knowledgeable and skilled at reaching them where they “live” today. And in today’s world people “live” on their computers, tablets, and smartphones. So as the old adage goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”
Create a Facebook® page and Twitter® account for your department. Use these social media tools to:
- Inform and educate stakeholders with the information necessary to keep them and their families from becoming a victim of fire.
- Inform and educate them about the fires that happen in the community: (1) what caused the fire; (2) the fire’s impact on the occupants; and how the fire could have been prevented.
- Conduct virtual “Town Hall Meetings” to engage members of the community in two-way communication about how they can protect themselves and their families from fire. Such meetings can provide the opportunity for people to ask questions, not only about fire prevention, but about your department in general. This can provide a great opportunity to develop stronger community partnerships.
- Provide a vehicle for stakeholders to provide input to your department about the fire prevention questions 24/7/365. What a tremendous opportunity to obtain “real time” information from the stakeholders in your community!
- Use software such as SurveyMonkey® or Zoomarang® to conduct your own research by running on-line surveys. This can help you assess the fire safety knowledge of people in your community and you could use surveys to assess the effectiveness of the programs you deliver.
- And lastly, you can create a great “rumor control” tool that can enable you and your department to proactively address questions and concerns.