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Executive Officer Leadership: Community Members Help Reduce Risk

Leaders in the fire service must always look forward to provide the highest level of service to the community they serve. This can come in a number of different forms, such as community-risk reduction (CRR), fire suppression and EMS.

Typically, EMS and fire-suppression services are easy to get public backing for and gets the largest piece of the fire department’ budget. The community is relieved and elated to see ambulances and fire engines show up in their time of need.

According to NFPA analysis:

  • Since 2001, the total number of fires local municipal fire departments reported has continued to trend downward for a decrease of 21%. Over this same period, the number of structure fires has remained relatively constant.
  • In communities with a population ofless than 5,000, the frequency of fires per thousand is higher and the rate of civilian fire deaths is significantly worse than in larger communities.
  • Fires are still fatal: 78% of all fire deaths occur in home fires.

Is there a way to decrease fire loss with community support?

Chiefs need to conduct a risk-assessment survey of the community they protect and determine what the biggest dangers facing that community are. Once the survey is completed and the top dangers are identified, the chief needs to implement courses of action to reduce the risks. This can be accomplished a number of different ways; one effective tool is a campaign to gain community support to reduce risks.

Developing community support for a CRR program can be challenging. The community may believe it isn’t their concern. The thought, “It has never happened to me and we have a fire department to take care of us,” may cause some members of the community to resist buying in.

Fire-service leaders must get out into the community and explain the need for a CRR program. It’s a challenge to not imply that the fire department isn’t capable of completely protecting them without their assistance. After all, they do pay tax dollars for certain services, and this can understandably be a sore subject for some.

An effective approach is to find a small group of community members who are at the greatest risk if the CRR program isn’t put into action; these people will be the best advocates for the program. They can create a committee to develop ideas on how best to get the message out to their neighbors and they’ll know what will work best in their community.

This strategy is most effective if there is one committee for each risk the fire department is attempting to reduce. Developing committees to address problems facing the community empowers committee members to take the lead on community risk reduction. They’ll probably take ownership to reduce not only the problem they’re currently working on, but also other problems facing their community.

Community education needs be at the forefront of our minds. This can only be accomplished with a lot of hard work and a lot of time invested in the community by fire-service leaders. After all, we’re in the business of saving lives, and if we can assist and educate our communities in risk reduction, lives will be saved. The community trusts us and the community deserves our all.

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