Fire Is…Opportunity!

By Tom Kiurski

A recent study reveals that 80 percent of this nation’s fire safety education is targeted at primary schools and ends in the primary schools. There are very few schools in this country that carry a regular course of fire safety education. How can we continue to keep children in the educational loop as they progress through school? How can we build on these early teachings that we have used for years to make older children more aware that fire is a real danger?

Livonia, Michigan, has a population of just over 100,000 residents, and has an 80-member fire suppression division. We believe that fire and life safety education is an important segment of our duties, and we also feel the frustration of a mounting workload and a shrinking budget.

These are difficult economic times. Budgets have been cut ,and it is impacting the fire service. Many of the budgetary cuts have been made to services considered “extras” but not considered “essential.” The public fire and life safety education programs across the country have suffered. But there are bright spots in the picture if you look hard enough.

With the increased use of the Internet and computer-based learning, we can hope to reach some of our audience on their home computers and television sets with messages of fire and life safety. Although not the ideal situation, it is better than no contact at all. If we were lucky enough to have had a personal contact with our community members, this Internet/video contact can help to reinforce those messages that they were taught in the previous contact. Face it. You don’t always learn something the first time you are exposed to it. We didn’t learn the alphabet after having heard it once–it was the repeated exposure over time that made it sink in permanently. Similarly, we should never be content with just one or two contacts with our community; we should strive for as many contacts as we can get.

The Livonia (MI) Fire Department recently joined in an experiment along with several communities across the country to institute a new approach to teaching reality-based fire safety education to children and families. It is a free tool developed for fire departments to use in their fire safety education programs. The DVD was produced by a grant from the MetLife Foundation.

The DVD, entitled “Fire Is…” consists of five approximately 20-minute modules approximately. The goal of each segment is to introduce the five prime elements of danger in a realistic manner. The advantage of the five teaching modules is that each unit can be shown separately for children as a short lesson, since children have a short attention span. I am sure that many of us have used this program to help educate our citizens, and it is a well done production by Dr. Frank Field, along with fellow reporters (his children) Storm and Alison Field. The five segments are

1. “Fire is Black”
2. “Fire is Hot” 
3. Fire is Smoke and Gas”
4. “Fire is Fast”
5. “Fire is an Emergency”

In Livonia, like many communities, our budget has been cut, and we are unable to visit our schools as often as we used to. We have tested this approach to keep fire safety education in place during these difficult times.  We used, at no cost, the DVD “Fire Is …” on our local community-based cable television station, our Web site, and our schools to inform kids (and hopefully, their families) about this program and how to access it through our local cable television station and our city Web site.

Once we decided to use the DVD, we received permission to use it free on television and the Web site from Dr. Frank Field. We contacted our community cable company, Livonia Television, and requested its help in this public service by giving us the air time during Fire Prevention Week in October. They were totally onboard with this project, and I have always found them to be receptive and helpful in getting our messages out there in an aesthetically pleasing way. Local television should be considered a valuable resource and should be approached as such in your community.

Our next stop was to our local school board, Livonia Public Schools. Some school boards around the nation are more receptive than others to our messages of fire and life safety. The approach to the school board at this time was different. I assured the school board that our intent was not to take time away from an already busy curriculum. We asked for permission to send flyers home to students so that families can be made aware when fire safety pieces would be airing in October.

We decided that the flyers should be sent home with our fifth- and sixth-grade students, since the danger of fire becomes meaningful to children at this age. The schools agreed to our request, and the flyer was distributed on the Monday before Fire Prevention Week.

Livonia Television suggested that we add a more “local flavor” by having our fire department include an introduction to each segment, along with a concluding remark or two after each program. This proactive approach offers us greater visibility and lets the community see local firefighters in a recognizable fire station with familiar fire trucks in the background. Once the programs were completed, they were added to our city Web site under “Educational Videos” and “Fire Prevention Week Videos.” That way, families could catch segments they may have missed during the week. It also enabled them to watch from the comfort of their computer work station at a time convenient for them.

Our local newspaper, which is published twice a week, is very cooperative about giving the community information about upcoming fire events, was also brought into the picture. On the Sunday just prior to Fire Prevention Week, I wrote an article that was published in the “Livonia Observer” that outlined our Fire Prevention Week activities, including our open house, times to drop in and visit the firefighters for a tour, and the viewing information about the “Fire Is…” modules that would be airing during the week.

Although it is difficult to estimate the number of viewers that tuned in during Fire Prevention Week, we know that the messages were well received, and we were able, through visual media and the assistance of the schools, to reach many more families than before. We also acknowledge the efforts of many local folks who joined us in this new approach and helped bring this opportunity to our families with encouragement and a great deal of hard work and dedication. 

What began as Fire Prevention Week education for our community turned out to be an ongoing opportunity to reach families in other communities as well. The city has maintained the teaching segments on our Web site. If you would like to review them, log on to the City of Livonia Web site (www.ci.livonia.mi.us). Under the “Departments” tab, click on “Fire Department,” then click on the “Educational Videos” section on the left for your choices. The programs under “Fire Is …” come under the heading of “Fire Prevention Week Videos.”

To get a copy of “Fire Is …”, go to the “Everyone Goes Home” Web site, where it is available for free downloading.

 

 

Tom Kiurski is training coordinator, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.

 

 

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