By Bryan Jack
Question: "We are thinking about starting up a fire prevention/senior citizen safety program — do you have any ideas on the best way to get started on this project?"
Public safety outreach and fire prevention programs are probably one of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of the fire service today. These programs can and should play a critical role in your agency and in the community that you serve. After all, the prevention or self mitigation of an emergency situation is a win-win situation for all parties involved. Fire prevention and public safety outreach needs to be a year-round and ongoing process that focuses on all hazards, all age groups and all the demographic features of your district. A one week focus out of the year is simply not enough.
Trends and needs The first steps in designing a successful program are to identify the trends and needs of the area that you serve. If you only responded to one structure fire in the last 20 years but you respond to 20 senior citizens that overdosed on prescription medications in the last 30 days then your focus should probably be on medication safety. You want to tailor the program to meet the specific and unique needs of your area. The only way to determine what your needs are is to identify and review local data. Start by reviewing your internal call data. What types of incidents do you respond to and which incidents do you respond to most frequently? I would also recommend reading and watching local media — newspaper, online, TV — to see if there are any local issues that you could assist in addressing. The bottom line is that you need to identify what the local issues are and then devise a plan to correct those issues.
Population and demographics After you have identified the local issues, you need to identify the population group that these issues are impacting. For example, do you serve a community filled with school aged children, young professionals, or a retirement community? Chances are that you have some of all the categories, but if you look at the available data you may find one group that stands out. Additionally, you need to determine if there is a large population of different or unique cultures residing in your area, as this may also influence the program that you design and implement. Solutions
So, you have identified the issues and analyzed the call trends, population and demographics of your service area. Now it is time to brainstorm some solutions. Remember, there are always multiple ways to achieve your goals, so don't get tunnel vision on just one solution. Some solutions to fire prevention and public safety outreach may include standalone programs conducted through the fire department, a cooperative partnership with the local school district, and programs conducted in conjunction with local businesses or senior groups. Additionally, you could also coordinate and cooperate with other local emergency service agencies to create a regionalized program.
Some program examples include:
Those geared towards school children — E.D.I.T.H. (Exit Drills in the Home), Proper use of 911, Stop Drop and Roll, Basic fire prevention, bicycle safety and helmet use.
Those targeting middle school through adult age groups — home fire extinguisher use, Firewise, CPR & First Aid, C.E.R.T. (Citizen Emergency Response Team), smoke detectors in the home, child safety seats, motor vehicle/driver safety.
Those targeted towards seniors — medication safety, Vial of Life, Home safety inspections, smoke detectors in the home. Remember to design your program to address a local issue and meet the needs of the population that you serve.
Funding Some programs may require a large amount of funding to design and implement while others can be implemented with little or no cost to the agency. Many national public safety groups provide training materials for next to nothing, if not for free. Furthermore, you could possibly charge a small fee for participation in certain programs — cost of books for CPR training for example. Another alternative is to ask for assistance from local business — maybe the local pharmacy would provide assistance in a medication safety program, for instance. In addition you should identify local grants that may offset your costs and as always you should apply for a Fire Prevention and Safety grant through the Department of Homeland Security.
Implement and communicate Once you have your program designed you need to come up with a plan to implement it. This plan may be as simple as coordinating with the local school district during "Fire Prevention Week." Alternatively, depending on whom your program is targeting, you may need to create and distribute press releases, have a local news article released, attend a senior function and "pitch" your program, or flood the internet and e-mail to get the word out. Essentially, the success of your newly created program will revolve around you getting the word out. You need to create a public relations frenzy and build support and excitement about fire prevention and public safety.
Evaluate, review, and revise Once the program is up and running you need to constantly reevaluate it. Are there improvements that can be made? Is there a different approach that would work better? What are the current shortcomings and how can they be modified and improved? Can the program be expanded or should it be scaled down and more focused on a single topic? Are there other ways to fund or continue the program? Can the program be transitioned to someone else, etc.
Make sure you keep good data for the program as this may help with future funding. At a minimum you need to track the number of people that you contact, the age ranges, positive and negative feedback, cost of the program by number contacted, agency time, resources and money invested in the program and successful outcomes.