Operation Dixieland to Test Impact of Fire Prevention

Operation Dixieland to Test Impact of Fire Prevention

Operation Dixieland, the United States Fire Administration’s first effort to impact an entire state in fire prevention and control, was officially launched Oct. 8 in Arkansas.

Officially, the origin of the Dixieland concept was an outgrowth of the USFA National Fire Data Center completion of a comprehensive study of the magnitude and characteristics of America’s fire problem. One major finding indicated a wide variation among fire death rates in the 50 states with Arkansas having one of the highest (fourth) in the nation.

In actuality, Dixieland was probably born when U.S. Fire Administrator Gordon Vickery last year told a House Appropriations Committee, “If we can’t impact one state through a concentrated effort in a two-to-three-year period, perhaps we don’t belong in the business.”

Vickery optimistic

Those are harsh words—something very few federal officials would dare to enter into the federal record. Yet Vickery, never noted for his soft approach, has, to a degree, laid the future of the fire administration on the line in Arkansas.

“Certainly it’s a challenge, Vickery said. “Yet I’m totally optimistic that we can increase public awareness and knowledge of the specifics of their local fire problem and what to do to change the statistics. We will train the state’s fire service in ways to reduce their problem and motivate the state and federal government to consider legislation for reducing the fire problem. We’ll also develop fire information systems to even better identify their problem, target solutions and track results over time.”

While the idea of Operation Dixieland originated with the fire administration, it would not have been possible in Arkansas without the support of Arkansas Governor William Clinton, Congressman Beryl Anthony, Jr., and numerous other state and local officials.

“This could accurately be called a unique, harmonious blending of federal, state and local officials,” Vickery emphasized. “The fire administration plans to commit approximately $1.1 million over the next two or three years in grants, programs, and technical assistance. In order to receive this depth of commitment from the fire administration, Gov. Clinton has pledged $100,000 from Arkansas as an in-kind contribution.”

Exciting endeavor

In endorsing the project, Clinton said, “The goals of Operation Dixieland are admirable and ambitious …. the partnership of (Arkansas) agencies and the USFA should be a very exciting endeavor.”

Congressman Anthony said, “Our losses are staggering. Since Jan. 1st, we have lost 148,873 acres of our land. So far, we have exceeded our previous fire year average of 57,000 acres annually. This year’s loss is almost triple that figure.Operation Dixieland offers relief for all of us because we know that positive, comprehensive and well planned steps are being taken to help us protect ourselves from this menace …. The results will be a safer, more productive Arkansas.”

Operation Dixieland helmet is presented to Gov. William Clinton, left, of Arkansas (who lost his bid for reelection), by Paul Benton, director of the Arkansas Fire Academy. In background is U. S. Fire Administrator Gordon Vickery.

The Arkansas Association of Fire Chiefs, Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs and the Arkansas Association of Fire Fighters all joined in their endorsement of this project.

Over 30 programs

Specifically, USFA plans to deliver over 30 fire prevention technical assistance programs in arson control, residential fire safety, fire fighter health and safety, fire protection services, and fire service first-responder assistance.

“While a complete profile of Arkansas’ fire problem is impossible to develop at this point due to the absence of sufficient statewide data, the data that is available indicates an extremely serious situation,” Vickery said.

Based on 1974-1977 statistics, approximately 100 to 120 Arkansans die in fire or fire-related emergencies annually while an estimated 560 are burned, injured or disabled each year. This yields an Arkansas fire death rate of 52.8 per million, which exceeds all but three other states in the nation.”

To further compound the problem, 64 percent of Arkansas’ population is concentrated in rural areas where fire protection resources are scarce.

Fire administration officials feel a reduction in fire losses can only be accomplished through years of planning and fire safety program work.

Divided into five parts

Briefly, Operation Dixieland will be divided into five sections: arson, residential fire safety, fire fighter health and safety, fire protection service, and fire service emergency first-responder.

To enhance the overall ability of Arkansas officials to deal with the state’s arson problem, the following programs will be delivered:

Arson investigation and detection training, arson task force, arson information management system, juvenile firesetter counseling program, arson public education effort and woods burning prevention.

As roughly two-thirds of all fire deaths occur in residences, Operation Dixieland becomes a high-priority concern in this area. Correct behaviors— both before and during a residential fire—and improved technology can help reduce the loss to life and property.

Programs to be delivered are:

Residential inspection program, public fire education course, state codes and standards examination, smoke detector campaign, sprinkler demonstration, electrical fire investigation, housing improvements and school programs.

Fire fighters incur over half of the injuries sustained at fires they attend. A great amount of research is now under way to reduce fire fighter injury rate and improve the overall health and safety of the fire service. Programs offered are:

Fire fighter physical fitness program and protective clothing program (Project FIRES).

Executive development and fire service training are stressed in the fire protection services area of Operation Dixieland. An overall goal is the establishment of a comprehensive statewide approach to fire prevention and suppression. Programs include:

Management training, public education assistance, national fire incident fire reporting system (NFIRS), data studies program, equipment purchase specification project, equipment maintenance course, equipment purchase assistance, master planning assistance and women in the fire service program.

Historically, the fire service has been the first on the scene with the training, equipment and experience from daily emergencies to assist in alleviating the destruction and disruption caused by disasters of all kinds. The major programs for fire service emergency firstresponder assistance include:

Instructor training, incident command, emergency medical services, hazardous materials, natural disasters and nuclear readiness planning.

Arkansas academy role

Project management assistance of Operation Dixieland will be the responsibility of the Arkansas Fire Academy. The academy is the central focus for the fire and emergency service training in the state and its staff for the project will be assisted by USFA’s Office of Planning and Education. The Arkansas Fire Academy provides training in fire department operations at its campus in East Camden during the week and on weekends. It also provides individual fire department training through the use of field and part-time instructors, and provides additional training through 39 regional schools each year. Technical assistance in operations, planning, training and management is also provided.

“We are still mobilizing the support and participation of everyone within the state,” Vickery concluded. “As I stated before, I’m very optimistic that Dixieland will significantly impact Arkansas and as it proves beneficial, it can be expanded into the eight other Southeastern states that also have high fire death rates.

Operation Dixieland—a USFA highrisk gamble? Not according to Gordon Vickery. A challenge, yes—a gamble, no!

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