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Safety & Health: Risk Reduction—A Global View

When considering risk-reduction programs, the fire service typically targets the residential populations in their communities. There’s good reason for this approach. As was documented in the release of the report America Burning in 1973 (still relevant in today’s fire-service literature even given its original release date), America’s fire problem continues to be primarily residential.

Community risk-reduction (CRR) programs serve to minimize the risks associated with residential fires (and other community risks) through education, early warning, engineering and fire-protection improvements, among other things.

While it’s sometimes difficult to quantify the value of CRR programs in terms of lives and dollars saved (it’s not easy to document fires, injuries and deaths that didn’t happen), as fire-service professionals, we know based on statistical comparisons of current versus historical data and anecdotal information that quality CRR programs work—and they work well.

As important as CRR is to your community, the overall concept of risk reduction is vitally important to firefighters as well because community risk involves much more than just the resident; it involves occupational and operational risk as well.

Consider some of the positive outcomes from a residential fire that didn’t happen:

  • Civilians weren’t injured or killed (community).
  • Property wasn’t damaged (community).
  • Firefighters weren’t exposed to carcinogens (operational and occupational).
  • Firefighters weren’t exposed to hazardous conditions inherent to firefighting operations (operational and occupational).
  • Firefighters and the public weren’t exposed to traffic hazards due to responding fire apparatus (community, operational and occupational).
  • The fire department remained available for another emergency, reducing response and on-scene times and potentially increasing civilian survivability (community, operational and occupational).

Fire-service models that emphasize risk reduction aren’t just instrumental in reducing civilian injuries and deaths. They also help to reduce firefighter injuries and deaths and property loss, and they reduce negative economic impact as well.

If done properly, developing SMART goals—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound—in the strategic planning process will help establish a safer community in which to live, as well as reduce exposure to firefighters and the short- and long-term costs associated with those exposures.

Consider the example of a SMART objective that proposes to achieve a 20% reduction in the number of residential fires involving cooking equipment by a certain date. The primary benefit is reduced occupant exposure to injury and death resulting from home cooking fires.

However, linking a reduction in exposure to firefighters and the reduction in associated costs of treatment of injuries and occupational diseases, insurance premiums, etc., increases the impact exponentially.

If you’re trying to sell a risk-reduction program to your municipal officials, think globally. The benefits of a quality risk-reduction program reach far beyond the community. Not only must fire-service leaders be advocates of risk-reduction programs for their residents; they must also promote the benefits of reducing occupational and operational risks to firefighting personnel as well. 

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