How much time do you spend preventing fires? Firefighters train on fireground tactics, standard operating procedures, rescue operations and a host of other hands-on activities, but what portion of your training activities — heck, what portion of your day — do you think about preventing fires and the other emergencies you respond to?
“Anybody who works for a fire department is responsible for prevention,” said Alan Perdue, the emergency services director for Guildford County, N.C. “Whether you are a recruit on your first day or a fire chief with years of experience, our mission should be to prevent the fire before it occurs; it’s a responsibility we all share.”
In tough economic times, fire-prevention staff and activities often are the first things cut from the budget. But is that wise? Perdue thinks not. He is a big believer in prevention, and is convinced that focus on safety should continue to increase even as department manpower decreases. “Fire prevention is probably one of the most important things of everything we do,” he said.
Perdue sits on the steering committee for Vision 20/20, an initiative spearheaded by the Institute of Fire Engineers to develop a national strategic planning process for fire-loss prevention. This week the organization launched its Fire Prevention Advocacy Toolkit, an online, comprehensive resource guide for fire departments. It provides local fire departments with step-by-step tools they need to prove the value of fire prevention in saving lives and reducing the impact of fire on a community and its economy. The toolkit fulfilled the first of five strategies set out by the IFE — a community risk reduction (CRR) effort. The IFE-U.S. Branch has been working on implementing the internationally successful CRR programs here.
“We all know that fire prevention saves lives and money, but it’s been somewhat difficult to justify these programs economically,” Perdue said. “A fire department responds to a fire every 23 seconds, someone is injured every 31 minutes, and every three hours someone dies. Annually, across the nation, fires cause $15.5 billion in property damage.
“These new tools can demonstrate the terrible impact that a fire can have at a local level on people, a community and its economy,” he said. “A catastrophic fire can not only cause injuries and deaths, but it may also mean that businesses close their doors, resulting in losing both jobs and tax revenue. It’s really quite simple — prevention pays.”
Among the resources in the toolkit are guidelines for working with the local media, developing fire-prevention advocacy strategies and evaluating your program’s impact. While the toolkit is fairly comprehensive, Perdue admits it is still a very fluid process. “It’s not the answer, it’s the answer right now.”
After establishing and defining the strategy, Perdue said next step was to define who their targets were and how to get the message out. Quoting management consultant Peter Drucker, Perdue said, “’Things that get measured get done.’ We need to make sure the resources are in the right place for chiefs. It’s not like response time or salvage operations, but [prevention] can be measured if we set things down and evaluate what we’re doing.”
Perdue said, “There are really three different people we are trying to target with our effort: the public, the policy-makers and our own fire services.”
Speaking of educating the fire service, did you know that you don’t have to be an engineer to be a member of the IFE? IFE is a worldwide organization of fire-industry leaders sharing ideas of the global fire-service efforts. In fact, the majority of U.S. members are fire chiefs and chief officers.
Fire prevention is just not sexy in the world of fire. No one joins the fire service to work in the fire-prevention bureau, but why not? We never hear or read about saves or codes enforced. Maybe we should.
What have you done today to prevent fire in your community?