Community Relations

Meeting the needs of others so they may meet yours

I have long been an advocate of the community risk reduction (CRR) planning process, even when it wasn’t called that. The steps of the process are not new–and they are not unique to the fire service. The process begins with an assessment of risks in any given community, followed by the planning, implementation, and evaluation steps to prevent risks or mitigate their damage.

The purpose of this article is to talk about a tangential effort in CRR often overlooked for its importance: community relations. Please allow me to explain using an example from Arvada, Colorado.

Lieutenant Dave Matus had hip surgery in 2017. Like others faced with the prospect of a long rehabilitation process, he started purchasing the equipment he would need to support his recovery. That led to him thinking about others who needed similar equipment. Crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, and a wide variety of other medical devices, up to and including a power hospital bed, are often needed for relatively short periods of time. And they are also often beyond the financial resources of those who need them.

Like others, Dave started thinking about how best to dispose of the equipment he had purchased and no longer needed. The idea of something called “loan closets,” or similarly named warehouses of equipment that could be loaned on a short-term basis, is not unique. Others in communities across the nation have identified similar needs and created stockpiles of equipment that can be loaned.

In Dave’s case, he surveyed his area and found that there was nothing of that type in existence for Arvada and the surrounding area. So, he was instrumental in forming “Dave’s Locker” (because the idea came to him while he was considering the idea while looking at his locker at the fire department). He pitched the idea to his fire chief (Chief Greer) and ended up getting the support of the CRR section and firefighters of Arvada. They even had a nonprofit already set up (Friends of Arvada Fire) to help manage donations for the project.

By the end of 2017, Dave’s Locker had already helped 124 people with 212 pieces of equipment. Dave’s Locker takes in all types of medical equipment. In addition to mobility equipment, it received three hospital beds, an oxygen concentrator, two scooters, and three electric wheel chairs, along with numerous smaller items. The community is still donating equipment, and requests are still coming in daily for equipment to be loaned. If it can’t be used by them, Dave has made contacts with Crutches for Africa, Project Cure, and Paralyzed Veterans of America so donated equipment can still be forwarded to those in need.

I think it’s a great way for the fire department to connect with the community in a creative way, and it obviously fills a need that people have. Did it come about as a result of a formal community risk assessment? No. Was it part of a deliberate process to create programs that would meet prioritized risks in Arvada? No.

But it’s a great example of how an enlightened department can adapt to circumstances and take advantage of someone’s energy and ideas to add value to the overall CRR efforts already underway. I wanted to point out a fundamental concept related to CRR programs.

What do we do when the community has an obvious need that doesn’t exactly fit into our CRR plan? Can we figure out a way to meet the need and provide the obvious resources necessary to make something like Dave’s Locker happen? The Locker probably won’t prevent any falls or injuries from happening. It will help with medical recovery, so in that context it will help mitigate further medical expense. But by meeting others’ primary needs, we may be able to enlist their support for other projects more directly related to our CRR plans. Help them first, and they might just help us as well.

Many readers are familiar with the concept that is often attributed to Chief Seattle [Native American chief in Seattle (WA) and namesake of the city]. “People will not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Whether Chief Seattle said that is not the point. Sometimes we need to help people meet their needs first to get them to pay attention to ours.

And that concept can be a foundation of establishing community relationships, which help our overall CRR efforts in ways we previously thought impossible.

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