A young man or woman who joins the fire service suddenly becomes the fire expert to family, friends, neighbors, and the overall community. There is a mystique about the blue shirt and badge that indicates to the public that the wearer has the information and knowledge to answer questions on all aspects of fire. Since this perception exists, training officers must teach new department members the basics of fire prevention and fire education.

New personnel must learn the theory and skills of fire suppression and rescue operations and become proficient in their jobs. It also is imperative that the training include the knowledge and skills that will enable them to answer the day-to-day questions they receive and to communicate with their “customers”—the public.

This training begins with the proper way to notify the fire department of an emergency. It entails more than knowing 9-1-1, the local emergency number, or the location of the nearest fire alarm box. The new firefighter needs to understand that adequate information must be given to the fire alarm operator, including the name of the caller, the proper address of the incident, the nearest cross street, the nature of the problem, the location of the caller, and a call-back number. If, moreover, new firefighters can teach their families and friends the proper method of reporting an incident, the fire department will receive from the caller the information needed to ensure the fastest possible response.


Firefighters must instill in the public an overall philosophy that stresses that the best time to “protect lives and property” is before a fire starts. Our “customers” must be taught how to survive in a fire. We are trained to don protective clothing and self-contained breathing apparatus before entering a burning building. We are schooled in fire behavior and fire spread. We must be able to explain to community members how they should react to a fire. Remember, the public will not have the benefit of protective clothing and SCBA.

This community training should include often-overlooked procedures such as the follow ing:

  • Notifying the family members of a fire—especially at night.
  • Crawling low in smoke.
  • Sliding out of bed to the floor instead of sitting up in smoke and toxic fire gases.
  • Sliding out the window feet first on the stomach, slowly lowering the body until hanging by the fingers, and then dropping the reduced distance to the ground or surface below.
  • Teaching younger children how to unlatch the window for escape, that it may be necessary to break the window during a fire to escape, that they will not be punished for breaking the glass, and that a pillow must be placed in the broken window before they escape to protect them against shards of glass.
  • Stressing the need for a safe family meeting place so that a head count can be taken and emergency responders notified if someone is missing and a search of the building is needed.

Home and apartment escape plans should be included in the new firefighter’s job orientation.

Stop, drop, and roll. Another basic procedure every new firefighter should learn and pass on to family members, friends, and other community’ members is “Stop, drop, and roll.” This information would be useful to children and adults alike should their clothing catch fire: stop—to prevent fanning the fire by movement; drop— to get in a horizontal position so that the heat and flames go away from the body instead of rising to the head and facial area; and roll—to smother the flames and reduce, if not extinguish. the fire. The hands and arms should be used to protect the face unless the fire is on the hands or involves the sleeves. If the fire is on the limbs, the arms and hands must be kept to the sides when rolling. Perhaps the new firefighters should be given a practice session.

Fire extinguishers. Firefighters also often find themselves being asked how to select a fire extinguisher for the home. Coupled with this question generally is the question of where the extinguisher should be placed. Many variables should be considered before these questions are answered. They include the types and amounts of fuel used in the home, the season of the year, and who will be using the extinguisher. An attached garage or a basement also affects extinguisher placement. More than one extinguisher type and location may be necessary. Our “customers” need to know when they should initiate an attack and when it is better for them to evacuate the premises.

Smoke detectors. The novice firefighter may receive questions on smoke detectors. How many are needed? Where should they be placed? How are they tested? How often? When should batteries be replaced? The pros and cons of battery-operated vs. hard-wired detectors are also good to know. If the community has a smoke detector ordinance, every firefighter must be familiar with it. Any special smoke detector programs available in the community—such as offering free detectors, batteries, or testing—should be explained. The benefits of smoke detectors often are taken for granted by veteran firefighters; the new department members, however, need a thorough indoctrination.

Public education programs. New firefighters should be provided with information on other public fire education programs. They should know what the “Learn Not To Burn” curriculum for schools is, how it is implemented, and its benefits. They may have to support the program for their children or help persuade the principal, school board, or PTA to adopt it. They must be able to explain why residential sprinklers are important and how they can save lives, and they should know the programs the department offers, such as babysitter training (see Volunteers Corner, April 1992), the local fire safety mascot, or the clown society.

Fire safety education is an important element in the fire protection arsenal. The public fire education officer should be identified so that personnel know whom to contact for additional information. Firefighters must realize that once they put on the shirt and badge, they become part of the public fire education program. Trained firefighters are 90 percent of the way there; now let’s take them the final 10 percent of the way and teach them fire safety. What better way is there to suppress a fire than to prevent it?

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