By Jane Jerrard
Published Saturday, October 1, 2011
| From the October 2011 Issue of FireRescue
Fire departments across the country are finding ways to implement community risk reduction (CRR) programs thanks to Vision 20/20, a project overseen by a steering committee made up of fire prevention experts and agency leaders, and funded by an AFG Fire Prevention and Safety Grant given to the Institution of Fire Engineers.
Jim Crawford, Vision 20/20 project manager, explains that the idea for the CRR project came up in a discussion on EPARADE, an online forum for fire safety and prevention professionals. That discussion led to the 2006 meeting of a group of fire prevention specialists who “agreed that we didn’t need another organization, we needed a plan,” Crawford says. “By design, that plan looked at the gaps in existing fire prevention programs. We considered what we should be looking at in conjunction with ongoing efforts.”
CRR & Home Safety Visits
The new steering committee set up pilot programs for CRR that focused on home safety visits, a method that had proven successful in the United Kingdom and Australia. “The concept involves identifying high-risk areas, and reaching out to those areas by going door-to-door,” Crawford explains. “Community risk reduction is not limited to door-to-door—but that is the concept we wanted to support. Research shows that home safety visits work.” For example, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service in the UK has reduced fire deaths by close to 60% in the 10 years they’ve focused on home visits.
Crawford stresses that the idea of door-to-door visits isn’t new to the United States, but departments need help with planning, scheduling and funding their efforts. He also notes that CRR isn’t limited to just the fire service. It can also work for law enforcement, EMS, etc.
Programs in Action
Participants in pilot programs designed their own CRR and found their own funding; they ranged from multi-department cities like Dallas to small combination departments like Amherst, Mass. Crawford says of this disparity, “Some departments are more sophisticated than others, and have [staff with expertise] in doing risk assessments. But if you don’t have those resources, you can still do an assessment informally. Just ask the firefighters about the area they’re called to the most. They already know the risk picture; after that, the steps are the same.”
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue in Oregon is at the other end of the spectrum. Because the department is responsible for nine cities and three unincorporated counties, it took a unique approach to its CRR program. Steve Forster, fire marshal and division chief, says, “We did a full re-organization of the fire district—not based entirely on [CRR], but that was a fairly significant reason.” The new, integrated structure splits the department into three geographical divisions, each with its own operations, prevention, training and community services groups. An integrated team meets quarterly at every fire station to review that station’s unique call patterns and risk factors. “They look for preventative steps we can take,” Forster says.
Sharing Lessons Learned
In March 2011, fire prevention professionals and representatives from participating departments held a symposium to discuss the CRR programs. Several lessons learned were highlighted:
- A simple incident data collection and analysis tool is needed to help improve implementation of CRR programs in the United States—especially when departments are trying to identify high-risk areas and target mitigation strategies in communities where sophisticated research and analysis are not possible.
- Some risk identification tools exist already, such as “windshield” surveys that fire departments use after a disaster to identify high-risk properties.
- Partnerships are extremely important, especially where cultural, language or literacy barriers exist and subject matter expertise must be obtained from community members.
- A local champion and adequate training are critical if firefighters are to understand the value and importance of CRR programs.
The Next Step: CRR Training
The Vision 20/20 steering committee has commissioned a training package that outlines steps for implementing a CRR program. “We have a cadre of firefighters who will train departments on this,” Crawford says. The project has funding to provide training to five sites this year, and is seeking more money to expand to more departments. “We have field instructors who can carry on the [training], even if we never get another dime,” Crawford says. “But we’ll need more funding for an infrastructure to support this effort long-term.”
To access the report from the CRR symposium and CRR program resources, visit the Vision 20/20 website at www.strategicfire.org.
CRR programs are making the mostof the latest technology
Ed Comeau of Vision 20/20 is a proponent of investing in iPads for CRR teams working door-to-door—particularly for smaller departments—because iPads help streamline the process and simplify paperwork. “Rather than recording information collected during the visit on paper and then going back to the station to enter it into the computer, the information can be captured once, onsite,” Comeau explains. The department can also set up a Google Form for CRR, which can be accessed from any web-enabled device. “Not only does this save time and ensure that the information is complete, but as the administrator of the project, I can see in real-time how it’s going,” Comeau points out. “And if the information captured on the form isn’t adequate, I can make changes to it instantly.”
Although iPads are a substantial investment for small departments, they can do double-duty if used to show video clips. “We set up a YouTube channel with short fire-prevention videos,” Comeau says of the Amherst Fire Department’s CRR program. “So we can either spend three or four minutes explaining to someone why they shouldn’t put water on a grease fire—or we can show them a 30-second video of what actually happens [when they do]. [The videotaped example] is extremely impactful, and it crosses any language barrier.”
To view a YouTube video used by the CRR program to educate residents about cooking fires, visit www.youtube.com/ifevision2020#p/p.
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