Fire Safety Trailers

Among the many props that support public fire and life safety education programs, I used to dislike educational trailers the most. They are big. They require a lot of equipment to move around. They require a lot of staffing to manage. But I actually think they may be one of the more effective tools for public education around-if they’re used correctly.

EDUCATIONAL TOOLS

First, let’s start with the basic premise of education itself and how people learn. There is evidence to support the supposition that people learn and remember best in the following order: what they hear; what they see; what they do; and finally (and best), what they hear, see, and do. That’s why a fire safety trailer can be a very good educational tool; if it is used properly, children can be taught verbally and visually and have a chance to practice skills they’ve just been taught.

This concept should not escape or be a surprise to the fire service. Do we learn about fighting fire in a classroom? Not entirely, and certainly not the best we can. Short of a real, live experience, simulation in a physical environment and hands on provide the best education can offer. If psychomotor skills were not important, no one would ever be exposed to a fire simulator, a training fire, a CPR mannequin, or an endotracheal tube simulator.

But hands-on training can be misused. Even the best simulation can be used to teach people the wrong behaviors, so it’s important to get things right. Fortunately, there is a new guide that helps do just that.

TRAILER CURRICULUM

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has recently published the Fire Safety Trailer Curriculum and is making it available to anyone via a free download from its Web site (www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention). There you can get a comprehensive learning curriculum that addresses several key issues for fire safety trailers. This comprehensive guide was developed in a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. A number of national subject matter experts were consulted in developing the curriculum too, but the document goes well beyond the educational components. There is a section that provides suggestions on how to get funding to purchase a trailer.

The guide also includes some important tips on how to write a grant application to the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG). I often hear complaints from local departments that have given up applying for grants from the AFG for prevention programs because they haven’t been successful. But many write grants that don’t begin to cover the basics. Just asking for a trailer and expecting a grant peer review panel to understand its value in an educational setting isn’t enough. The guide offers tips on how to portray the educational trailer in a comprehensive educational setting, and the curriculum helps do that.

Would you want taxpayer dollars spent on a fire safety trailer that sat unused? Of course not. There must be a plan to use it, do so well, and fit it into a larger educational strategy to be successful in a grant application.

The guide also helps in that department by offering suggestions on how to market the trailer in a community and collaborate with others to maximize its use. An example would be to use it with a school program, getting kids outside the classroom and through an educational exercise that simulates a number of safety behaviors. I love the idea of teaching something that goes well beyond a firefighter donning turnout gear in front of children so they won’t be afraid when we arrive to rescue them. Think about it; how many children have been hiding when firefighters arrive for a rescue? Are we really entertaining them, or are we teaching them something that will make a difference in preventing or surviving a fire?

That is where the teaching tools in the curriculum also ramp things up in the educational department. We understand (don’t we?) that education needs to be appropriate for the age group being taught. So the teaching tools in the curriculum break down lesson plans from pre-kindergarten, to middle and high school, and older.

THE BLUEPRINT

Now consider a grant application that requires information about how you intend to use a fire safety trailer. How would you evaluate the results achieved? The USFA’s curriculum has a section that covers the steps in evaluating program activities and behavior changes.

Here is a blueprint for getting the most out of a fire safety trailer. Lots of departments want them, and I fear too few know what to do with them once they do have one.

We have an obligation to put the trailer to good use if we do get one. Rolling it out once a year is unlikely to justify the expense, but making it part of a larger comprehensive educational strategy is why the AFG grant application criteria was written the way it is. Because spending money on something that isn’t used, or used well, is a waste.

Note: For additional information on the AFG Fire Safety Trailer Curriculum, contact Teresa Neal (teresa.neal@fema.dhs.gov).

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