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When Community Education Leads to a Saved Life

On May 13, the City of Lompoc (Calif.) Fire Department responded to an early morning fire at an eight-unit apartment complex. Upon arrival, firefighters found a well-involved apartment unit with fire threatening to extend to adjacent apartments and the second floor; almost all residents of the building had evacuated safely. The cause of the fire was improperly disposed smoking material.

The story of the fire was covered by a local news affiliate that interviewed a mother and daughter who lived in the building and had safely evacuated. The mother, Ms. Doupe, explained that the fire department's public-education efforts provided them the knowledge they needed to act properly in the emergency. The day before, she and her daughter attended the Lompoc Community disaster-preparedness event – Ready, Set, Go! (RSG!).

In all my years of public service, this is the first documented event I can recall where a participant in one of our public-outreach programs acted on lessons learned almost immediately.

Educating the public on fire-safety preparedness is an important part of our jobs. The more prepared residents are with knowledge, the greater the chance for a positive outcome for all who come face to face with fire. This process significantly increases the safety of the residents and allows the firefighters to do their job of extinguishing the fire, increasing the chance of saving homes and loved ones.

One of the driving factors to become a member of the IAFC's National Ready, Set, Go! Program is its encouragement to create a dialogue between the fire department and the residents we serve. The program provides resource tools for informing residents of the risks and allows us to explain the local wildland-fire situation.

One resource the program recently provided was a grant opportunity to support our wildland-fire public-awareness efforts, thanks to financial support from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and the IAFC. Due to this support and a matching grant from a local emergency preparedness nonprofit, the city of Lompoc was able to put on a robust disaster-preparedness event.

We leveraged our preparedness partners, including:

Together, we had many interactive displays on hand and highlighted the RSG! Program's three-step process that allows firefighters to teach homeowners to be Ready with preparedness understanding, be Set with situational awareness when fire threatens and to Go, acting early when a fire starts.

Though primary presented for wildland-fire understanding, the RSG! Program's message has an all-hazards connection.

The disaster-preparedness event was an overwhelming success for many reasons. By leveraging the RSG! Program, its resources and our partners, we directly learned that our efforts helped residents to safety during a fire.

As Ms. Doupe said, "It helped us to remain calm; I was impressed with [my daughter's] actions … she did exactly what was told with no hesitation … and we made it safe."

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