NFPA Impact: March 2019
Public education is first line of defence
Back in mid-2017, when I was editor of this magazine, NFPA regional director Shayne Mintz sent me an email asking if I could put word out to my contacts about a new pub-ed position for Canada.
Those of you who have participated in NFPA workshops in the last 18 months know the rest of this story: I read the job description, called Shayne, and told him I didn’t want to share the email because … I wanted the job!
I loved every minute of my 10 years as editor of Fire Fighting in Canada, but having an opportunity to make a difference and potentially help fire departments save lives was a logical next step.
As the NFPA’s public-education representative for Canada, it’s my job to help fire departments develop and strengthen the first line of defence. It sounds easy, working with schools or community groups and explaining why everyone needs smoke alarms and escape plans and CO detectors, and … . But often I ask folks what they or their departments do for public education. Often the answer is, “We go into the schools,” or “We do Fire Prevention Week.”
“Great,” I reply. “What is your plan when you go to the schools? What messages do you want your audiences to hear?” Often, this results in an awkward moment, because the answer is often, “We’ve just always done it.” Sound familiar? What’s more, often folks are using outdated messages and resources.
Like everything else in fire, public education and that first line of defence require planning, accountability and training. As municipal councils demand justification for every dollar spent, understanding the risks in your communities and targeting your pub-ed messaging directly to the audiences affected by those risks, is the next logical step.
In Regina, cooking fires are an issue. Cooking, of course, is a leading cause of fires in every province and territory. So, the pub-ed folks in Regina – my remarkable colleagues Angela Prawzick and Candace Giblett, along with researchers from the University of Regina – had crew captains survey people involved in cooking-fire calls. The data shows trends based on demographics and culture. But the research also revealed that generic messages – look while you cook or stand by your pan – resonate only with people who look and speak the way we do. For new Canadians, who have a higher risk of experiencing a cooking fire/incident, the messages need to be more specific, in clear language, with step-by-step instructions.
Public education is about modifying behaviour. People need a reason to change, and they need to understand why we want them to do something different.
We want you to go into the schools and we want you to do Fire Prevention Week. But we want to make sure your messages are accurate, your teaching methods are effective, and you have all the tools you need to do a great job.
So, how can we help? First, there are a ton of free resources on the NFPA website that you or your department can access at no cost. Go to www.napa.org, click on public education, and navigate your way through the programs, videos, and activities.
Second, we are developing a standard – NFPA 1300 – to help you complete a community risk assessment to identify your target areas.
Third, our messaging guide – at https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Resources/Educational-messaging – is a bible of sorts for your entire department. Download it. It’s free!
Fourth, we have a full-time person in Canada (that’s me) to work with you to help you develop programs and messaging.
And, lastly, we offer training on all that and more ¬ for volunteer and career firefighters, fire-prevention officers, fire- and life-safety educators, and community groups.
In Canada, we do a good job of fire prevention and public education. We need to maintain that momentum, embrace technology and stay current.
In Canada, we have few civilian fire fatalities (compared to the United States), very few firefighter fatalities, and our provincial and territorial offices of the fire marshals and fire commissioners are committed to fire prevention and public education.
Each of those offices has an NFPA rep who can help you find the resources I’ve mentioned, or set up training on myriad public education topics. A reminder that the resources, and the training, are free! Email me to find out who your provincial/territorial rep is, or ask me about any of the resources or training.
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Firehouse World Exposition and Conference
March 25-28, 2019
OAFC Annual Northeastern Fire Education Conference
March 29-30, 2019
Fire Department Instructors Conference
April 8-13, 2019
Fire Services Association of Nova Scotia conference
April 12-19, 2019