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Department connects with seniors for Fire Prevention Week

Oct. 10, 2014, Simcoe, Ont. – Firefighters in Ontario’s Norfolk County are teaching residents in retirement homes how to better prevent fires. First, though, they’re serving the seniors lunch.

October 10, 2014
By Maria Church

Oct. 10, 2014, Simcoe, Ont. – Firefighters in Ontario’s Norfolk County are teaching residents in retirement homes how to better prevent fires.

First, though, they’re serving the seniors lunch.
   
Casual chatter over soup and sandwiches, says Scott Pipe, the fire prevention officer with Norfolk County Fire and Rescue Services, builds trust and eases tension so the seniors feel more comfortable around firefighters later on during mandatory fire drills.

norfolk_fpw
Deputy District Chief George Feere serves
seniors dessert at the Cedarwood Gardens retirement home in Simcoe, Ont.
Norfolk County Fire and Rescue Services is visiting seniors homes to
share fire-safety tips for Fire Prevention Week. Photo by Scott Pipe


It's also a chance for firefighters to better understand the seniors needs, make friends and hear stories.

According to Human Resources Development Canada seniors are the fastest  growing population in Canada and increasingly the focus of fire-prevention efforts. In January, Ontario brought in new regulation that mandates observed fire drills and safety inspections take place in vulnerable occupancies, which includes retirement homes.

Pipe said the original goal of visits to seniors’ homes was to put a face to firefighters and educate seniors about how to avoid fires in the first place.
   
But the learning, he said, ended up going both ways.

“You can read about it in a book, and you can talk to other people in the fire service about their experience with seniors, but when you actually go to a place that has 70 people over the age of 65 . . . you can learn so much more about their challenges,” Pipe said.

Norfolk Fire Chief Terry Dicks said the department plans to change the way it deals with some fire-safety issues based on the information gleaned from stories shared by seniors over the last month.

“We know they have mobility issues, we know they have hearing issues, and we know they have sight issues,” Dicks said. “By going out and meeting with our seniors and different vulnerable sectors, we can then change different components of our service to meet their needs.

Dicks said the department now has a better idea of what types of alarms seniors find the most effective, and what types of drills will help them learn about fire safety.

“If we keep doing the same things over and over, we may not be addressing those key indicators,” he said.

For each engagement, the firefighters start by serving lunch to the seniors.

“We go in and say ‘hey, now that I’ve served you lunch, we’re now friends, so lets talk about how not to start fires.’ They laugh at us and we deserve it, but it gets the point across,” Pipe said.

He said the firefighters’ core message to the seniors is honest and straightforward: “You are responsible for your own fire safety.”

The Norfolk County firefighters are able to share their blunt message, while at the same time building relationships with the people they serve, Pipe said.

“Now when we go back to do the inspection or to do the fire drill, they couldn’t be any more pleased to see us again because we built a relationship,” he said.

Pipe said the department has a few more homes to visit this month, and the plan is to continue the visits for Fire Prevention Week next year.


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