By Derek Rosenfeld
On Tuesday afternoon at FDIC 2015, Eden Prairie (MN) Fire Department Assistant Chief of Training and Prevention Becki White brought a discerning eye to the topic of fire education in her workshop, explaining “Why Fire Prevention Education Isn’t Working for Today’s Fire Service.”
In 2014, White delivered a classroom session on delivering effective presentations. Prior to joining the fire service, she was a school teacher, so much of her formal education was on teaching and learning. That previous class covered classroom set up, program and presentation development, learning styles, non-verbal communication, and presentation delivery.
White talked about some of the roadblocks that the fire service faces regarding fire prevention education.
“There are so many different things firefighters need to know to perform our jobs safely and effectively. The various aspects of fire prevention are often glossed over or passed off to the prevention bureau, if a department has one. There is little or no training on the fire safety/fire prevention messaging that could save the lives of our community members. Often, the messages that are given are those we learned decades ago.”
Here, White talks about the tricks to educating kids on time-honored fire prevention concepts such as “Crawl Low Under Smoke,” “Stop, Drop, and Roll,” and “Close the Door.”
“Education is as much a passion for me as the fire service is. How people take in the information is an important as what the information is. I worked for the State of Minnesota as the Deputy State Fire Marshal—Fire & Life Safety Educator for five years. I helped departments statewide develop messages and materials to reach out into their communities. My education and fire service background combined together give me good insight into what messages need to be delivered and how to best craft those messages so they are received and acted upon.”
Next, White educates students on getting out their fire prevention message to people rather than trying to get the people to come to them, or what she calls “scuba diving.”
“In my fire service career, there have been few opportunities for me to take a class on messaging and fire prevention, yet many people talk about how fire prevention and community risk reduction is the future of the fire service. I thought it would be a good topic to investigate further and to help prepare the messengers (the firefighters) on what it all means and how to make sure we’re best meeting the needs of our communities.”
Here, White discusses the concept of proper public relations and public information, which leads to proper public education.
White said, “The public looks at the fire service as the subject matter expert on all things related to fire. This not only includes the many aspects involved in fire suppression, but also fire prevention. When firefighters are asked about smoke alarm placement and maintenance, the answer they give carries a lot of weight, but we don’t equip our firefighters with the knowledge needed to answer those questions appropriately. The messages that are given in a school presentation are often carried home and repeated to others, and in some cases are carried by the receiver for years. We need to make sure that we understand the purpose behind our messages and how to best deliver those messages.”
She continued, talking about her FDIC experiences: “The ability to network with other firefighters is a primary benefit of FDIC. Big departments, small departments, career, combination, volunteer – it doesn’t matter. From people who I met on the plane on the way out to Indy, to classroom instructors, to others attending classes; I have made many connections in Indy that have turned into great friendships.”
“There are many benefits to attending FDIC. One of the downsides is there are so many great classes that it’s difficult to choose. If you aren’t able to attend a class, reach out to the instructors and ask questions. Find out what you can about their topic. These are passion items for the instructors, so they are often willing to tell you everything you want to know about the topic if you reach out to them.”