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Seven Ways to Make Community Risk Reduction a Focus of Your Department

For many in the fire service, the role of fire chief is evolving. On any given day our expanding role may take us from EMS to pre-hospital healthcare, to meeting the growing needs of our communities, to striving for a diverse workforce, to working to reduce personnel exposure to by-products of a fire, and to ensure adequate resources. An ever-present concern for any fire chief is our role in reducing the impact incidents have on our community.

The concept of reducing that impact might be focused on large-scale dangers, such as a hazardous materials incident or a massive fire. Sometimes the focus is on how we can get to an incident faster, or how can we get more personnel to do all that we need to do. However, reducing incident impacts on a community should include a range of prevention. That can be a challenge since many municipal fire service budgets focus on operational response while ignoring the need to prevent the incidents we respond to. 
The chief can take the lead on a different, better approach to reducing the impact of incidents. In order to move an organization from a traditional to a progressive model, we can incorporate Community Risk Reduction (CRR). This will require additional funding, and most importantly, require support from our government leaders and others in our jurisdiction.

Beginning a dialogue early, setting a vision, and building a means for collaboration are great ways to start the discussion on CRR. 

Here are seven things to think about as you plan to make CRR a focus in your department:

  1. Understand what CRR is and what the value is to the community. CRR is a process to formally identify and prioritize local risks, followed by an integrated and strategic investment of resources (such as emergency response and prevention) to reduce their occurrence and impact.

  2. Confirm community problems through data. Our firefighters have a strong gut instinct many times, but we need to know what the data shows. For example, we may think overdose responses and false alarms are a problem, but we need to look at the run numbers to know for sure. Once we confirm our unique issues, we can begin to build a unique approach to them.

  3. It’s all about partnerships! A properly executed CRR plan requires varied local stakeholders. Bringing together the many resources within a municipality often reveals that multiple groups are trying to solve the same problem within the jurisdiction. Leveraging broad-based community stakeholders to form a solid CRR plan will unite those efforts and pay dividends in the long run.

  4. CRR is more than smoke alarms. Installing smoke alarms may be a key component of your CRR plan. However, your CRR plan should identify and respond to other risks and other preventive measures. Many of our communities have fragmented programs that lack critical data and focus. Your CRR program can use data to guide your community to the most pressing needs and apply the resources you have appropriately.

  5. CRR is more than just one person and more than the Fire Department. Just as the fire service is much more than responding to incidents, CRR is more than establishing a CRR Team or hiring a CRR specialist. CRR must be accepted and integrated, from city hall to the chief of police, the fire chief, through personnel and including all facets of a municipality. Effective CRR can help us tackle a wide range of issues facing our community and affecting our quality of life. For example, CRR can help determine how to handle a vacant building, which organization is best able to verify safe installation of car seats, or how to handle addiction problems and their subsequent incidents.

  6. CRR is everyone’s job, including the fire chief. CRR has become an accepted and desired element within modern fire departments. Often, the fire chief is the key leader in community risk reduction. The chief can start the conversation, but effective CRR requires input, participation, and support from other managers and leaders within our community. That is vital for a program to succeed and remain sustainable, growing as the challenges of a community grow.

  7. CRR is a long-term endeavor. As we work to reduce risk in data-driven areas, new areas may emerge. It’s important to remain nimble and make the necessary changes in our plan over time. This underscores the importance of ongoing CRR evaluation, so our programs adapt to our community needs.

How can you take up the CRR mantle in your jurisdiction? Start by learning more about community advocacy from Vision 20/20, which pioneered the concept of CRR and has been tracking and evaluating CRR programs for several years. 

Want more? Listen to iCHIEFS podcast as Chief O'Brian joins with Chief (Retired) Cox to discuss "Creating Value and Opportunity Through Community Risk Reduction".

Michael O’Brian CFO, MiFIRE is the Fire Chief for the Brighton Area Fire Authority, in Brighton, Michigan. He serves on the International Association of Fire Chiefs Board of Directors as the representative from the Fire and Life Safety Section.

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