By Tom Kiurski
Does your department spread the fire safety message only during Fire Prevention Week? If so, you are missing out on valuable opportunities for instilling safety in your community all year long. There are many other “safety days” and programs you can use in conjunction with your existing fire safety education efforts. Some other ways to spread the word about fire safety follow.
Contact your local print media about writing a fire safety column, or offer to have someone in your department write a guest editorial. College and high school newspaper reporters are often looking for practice in writing articles. Contact them about interviewing a knowledgeable fire department member.
Send press releases to television (and cable television) studios announcing a particular event or message and your availability for interviews. Or you can arrange a ride-along for a reporter.
During National Burn Awareness Week in February, remind the community that each year 1.5 million people suffer burn injuries in the United States and Canada and that more than 35 percent of injuries and deaths from fire and burns involve children. Your safety message can include the safe use and inspection of heating equipment, scalds and food burn injuries, electrical safety, the safe use and storage of matches and lighters, and clothing information that reduces the chances of suffering serious burn injuries.
Severe Weather Awareness Week also takes place in February. Evaluate past weather-related incidents and the affected areas to determine the focus of your awareness campaign. Teach preparedness for thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis.
Child Passenger Safety Awareness Week, also in February, is a good time to advocate child safety in automobiles. Auto accidents kill approximately 1,800 children ages 14 and under each year. Keep information on hand regarding laws and recommendations for children and seat belts, car safety seats, and air bags. Many departments are in-volved in child safety seat checks because of the large number of seats improperly installed.
National Poison Prevention Week is the third week in March. More than one million children under the age of six are poisoned every year. This is a good time to suggest that your citizens clean out their medicine cabinets and flush old medicines down the toilet. Suggest they conduct a child’s-eye tour of their home and lock up or move poisons out of children’s reach. Spread the word about how common items can become poisons to children-for example, an adult dose can be a child overdose. Build a display that mounts candy alongside common medicines. (See “Helping to Reduce Accidental Poisonings,” Fire Prevention Bureau, October 2000, page 170.) The similarities are amazing. Target parents and caregivers with this campaign.
Wildfire Prevention Week is in April. Even if you do not have wildfire-prone areas in your jurisdiction, your citizens might find safety tips helpful when traveling. You can cover firewise landscaping, what types of outdoor fires are permitted in your area, campfire safety, and Smokey Bear messages.
EMS Week, the third week of May, is a good chance to show off your life-saving capabilities and educate your community about the role the fire department plays in EMS delivery. If you have upgraded your service level or added new EMS vehicles or equipment, let your community know.
Some departments have made public service announcements (PSAs) on such topics as first aid, tours of a new vehicle, a trip to the vehicle manufacturing plant, child safety laws, drinking and driving, child identification programs, and mock disasters. I was involved in one cable television program that outlined the initial training requirements of a paramedic and the need for relicensing at the end of the certification period.
May is Bike Safety Month. Statistics show that wearing a helmet can reduce head injuries by 85 percent. Stress the importance of wearing a properly fitting helmet and maintaining the bicycle, especially the brakes. Some communities have laws requiring helmets. Some departments hold “bike rodeos,” where kids can practice riding along a bicycle course. Bike mechanics are on hand to check bikes, and many organizations donate helmets. Safety tips to pass along include the use of reflectors, discouraging night riding, riding on the right side of the road, watching out for loose gravel or sewer grates, and knowing the hand signals.
Arson Awareness Week is in May as well. National statistics indicate arson is responsible for at least 25 percent of all fires and is the leading cause of fire loss, exceeding $3 billion annually. Juvenile arson is a problem all its own. Since neighborhood youths often look for things to set on fire, stress the importance of keeping yards clean and free of accumulated trash, keeping trees and shrubs trimmed, and installing motion sensor lights.
Buckle Up America! Week is in May. More than 7,000 agencies across the country take part in this campaign that urges Americans to be properly restrained in seat belts and child safety seats. The campaign’s goal is to increase seat belt use to 90 percent by the year 2005 and reduce child passenger fatalities by 25 percent.
National Safety Week is in June. This is a good time to emphasize safety in summer activities such as swimming and boating and first aid.
Along with Fire Prevention Week, National School Bus Safety Week is also in October. Who hasn’t heard of a child playing in the path of a moving bus or trying to open the emergency door on a moving bus? Team up with your school district to spread related safety messages.
The Great American Smokeout is in November. Find statistics on reducing your chances of heart disease and lung cancer by quitting smoking. Have a firefighter who has quit the habit deliver the message.
December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, which is appropriate considering the number of holiday and year-end parties that take place. Participate in campaigns that urge people to tie ribbons on their cars as reminders not to drive while impaired or campaigns where people are given free rides home if they can’t drive safely.
December is also Safe Toys Month, a time to inspect toys for possible hazards. Contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission about safety alerts and recalls.
Plan your activities and promotions well in advance of each event. If possible, form a team to share the workload-have a separate contact for radio, television, cable television, and newspapers. This divides the mailing, faxing, and phone duties into manageable size. For events that you sponsor, enlist the help of the entire department in making props, creating handouts, and promoting the event.
Tom Kiurski is a firefighter, 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.