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Preventing the Preventable: Renewing Fire Prevention and Life Safety Education as Firefighter Survival Tools

It has often been used as hyperbole that there is nothing new under the sun. Many older truths are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago when it comes to firefighting. Among these is that manual fire suppression technology is and most often will be employed when there is a failure in fire prevention and life safety education. 

Along those lines, to quote Mary Marchone, retired NFA Training Specialist, "There is no honor in responding to an incident that could have been prevented in the first place." 

Over the next several months, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) will embark on a renewed effort to continue to reduce firefighter deaths and injuries through a new program known as "Preventing the Preventable." Consistent with the NFFF mission, Preventing the Preventable will highlight, among the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, Initiative #14 (Public Education) and Initiative #15 (Code Enforcement and Sprinklers). 

The theme of this renewed effort is simple -- by preventing the incident or mitigating the effects, we enhance the safety of the public and that of firefighters.  

Fire prevention and life safety education have long been recognized as an effective way to establish "fire-safe" behavior among people of all ages and abilities. However, it is not as clear that firefighters have fully embraced fire prevention and life safety education programs in the context of "self-survival." If this program is successful, fire departments must commit to making a pivotal shift toward establishing an organizational culture of prevention.

The NFFF believes that the elevation of these programs as a priority needs to begin with proper direction and support from the Fire Chief, who must also aggressively seek support from local government administrators, risk managers, and elected officials. This includes adequate budgeting for fire prevention and life safety initiatives, training for all personnel as "life safety specialists," and incorporating fire prevention and life safety education experience into promotional processes for line and staff positions. This also includes positioning the organization for the effective marketing of fire prevention and life safety program successes and failures. No longer do we accept "we'll get to inspections if we have time." No longer can we believe that "show and tell" and red plastic helmets alone represent effective community engagement and education. No longer can we believe fire prevention and life safety education are just the responsibility of the Fire Marshal, Public Education Officer, or Public Information Officer. And, all involved must be committed to "practicing what we preach" on a personal and professional level. 

Preventing the Preventable will be developed using a variety of Community Risk Reduction (CRR) best practices and information, developed from Project Vision 20/20, USFA, NFPA, and similar organizations, states, and localities whose programs are recognized as "models" among CRR leaders. When developed, participants will have web and mobile device access to: 

  • Training on Community Risk Reduction principles;
  •  Resources for developing fire prevention and life safety education programs;
  • Links to broader Community Risk Reduction programs;
  • Case studies which highlight where fire prevention and public education played a clear role in the outcome, especially where LODDs and "near misses" are involved;
  • Coffee table" drills covering the vast array of fire prevention and life safety education topics;
  • A calendar of relevant educational programs, conferences, and similar events related to CRR themes;

In addition, the NFFF is developing a 4-hour training program which will be delivered through the 

"Everyone Goes Home" Advocate community. Agencies will be able to request a course through the "Everyone Goes Home" website or find a scheduled class by viewing the site "Event" page. Strategies included in the course can be used to tailor a fire prevention and life safety education program to meet the needs of the specific Fire Department.  

Perhaps there is no better way to prepare for this new program than by taking the "Essentials of Community Risk Reduction" course from IFSTA. It's online, free, and gives you solid insight into developing a prevention culture. Here's the link: Essentials Of Community Risk Reduction 

There's a lot more to come, but until then, be safe. 


Systems Chief W. Keith Brower, Jr. (Ret.),  began his career as a volunteer with the Purcellville (Virginia) Volunteer Fire Company in Loudoun County in 1973, and he worked in the County for 34 years, retiring from the Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System (LC-CFRS) in 2018. Chief Brower was active in legislative efforts to enhance benefits for all members and was named the “Career Fire Chief is a staunch promoter of tough fire codes, particularly residential sprinklers, to reduce civilian and firefighter deaths and injuries.

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