Teach Them and They Will Survive

By Jack Durjan

I have been reading articles about adults, children, and pets dying from fires. As I sat thinking, I said to myself, “Why is this still happening in America?” I started doing some research and I couldn’t believe the facts I found. People die and property is damaged by fire more in the United States than any other country. Don’t use the excuse that there are more people here, because that’s not true. Look at China with more people per capita per square mile than America. We can look at the fact that we take our own personal safety for granted. We all say that stupid phrase: It won’t happen to me.

Some people clown around when they teach fire education. Some just put a videotape in a VCR and when it’s over, that’s all folks. There are many ways to make presentations for public education. Find your best method of presentation, and perfect it.

I present 47 different classes on fire and life safety for infants through adults 100 years old. Sometimes other firefighters don’t think of public educators as firefighters, but we are just as important as they are. We, as public safety educators, are trying more and more to make firefighters’ jobs easier with the prevention we teach. The cost of putting on a class for safety is a lot cheaper than dealing with the loss of someone in a fire. I have dealt with far too many needless deaths in my career. One way to combat them is by teaching the public how to deal with and handle emergencies.

Articles on how to teach the public often are hard to find. Not every department has a public safety educator on its staff; the job then goes to another member of the department, who could have some knowledge or none at all on how to put a pub ed program together. There is nothing worse than sending a department member to do a presentation and having him do a bad job. You only get one chance to make a first impression; it is very difficult to regain the confidence of the public. This is a good reason to add a public education person to the staff, if you don’t have one already.

Conferences and seminars for public safety educators are also hard to find. Usually it is cost-prohibitive for educators to go on their own and it is not in the budget for the department to pay.

Let’s find a way to train the people in this country and gain the support from the entire department for our public educators. There is no honor in responding to any emergency if it could have been prevented through education.

Jack Durjan is a 35-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant with Martin County (FL) Fire Rescue. He is also a volunteer with the Division of Forestry in the Okkechobee District, located in south Florida. He is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Martin County in the Public Education Department.

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