The Safety Officer’s Role in Community Risk Reduction
By: Chris Simpson
To begin the conversation, we must establish what Community Risk Reduction is and why it is important to the fire department Safety Officer. Community Risk Reduction, while a semi-new concept in the fire service, really has its roots firmly planted in the days of yesteryear wherein many fire service organizations recognized the need for fire protection devices in residential occupancies and began a national campaign for smoke alarms. This led to legislation at the national level requiring smoke alarm installation in new construction and grant programs designed to provide low income families with these lifesaving resources.
To say that Community Risk Reduction has evolved would be an understatement considering the evolution of Community Paramedicine and the proactive approach to community health and wellness that type of program provides. Add to Community Paramedicine the periodic CPR/CCR classes held for community members, fall prevention education for residents of nursing homes and of course the ever present Fire Safety Month that sees fire departments from all over the country spreading the wealth of knowledge and empowerment of our future generations for fire safety in the comfort of their elementary classrooms. Community Risk Reduction is not defined by boundaries as a department seeks to know where they can have the greatest impact in their communities through the utilization of gained response data and other analytical means for project identification.
So where then does the Safety Officer of the fire department fit in to the big picture Community Risk Reduction program? First and foremost, the fire department safety officer must be a champion and advocate for Community Risk Reduction, both the initiatives as well as the program as a whole. This should come in addition to the overarching support and guidance provided by the administration of the fire department.
The fire department Safety Officer must also be an integral member for determination of program parameters. Community Risk Reduction is only going to be as effective of a program as the thought and insight that is provided by department members. It would make no sense to send a single engine company into a less-than-reputable part of their response area alone, to perform home safety surveys. Weather conditions, response models, crew fatigue – these are all examples of issues that the fire department safety officer needs to be cognizant of while overseeing the single facet of fire department operations.
Thirdly, the fire department Safety Officer needs to be an active participant during community risk reduction activities. Knowledge gained is knowledge earned and all members of the organization can benefit from the added knowledge of the associated risks and hazards of certain response areas. Some residential and commercial areas may have underground utilities and some may have them above ground. Knowing which areas are safe for ladder company operations above grade or which power pole sections have line breaks, is invaluable information from a preplanning and fire department risk reduction perspective.
Finally, the distribution or redistribution of gained knowledge will be of benefit to all members of the department and automatic aid partners. A cultural shift in the organization should alleviate “accidental” deleting of this distributed information from email inboxes, however community risk reduction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It will be one of the many duties of the fire department safety officer to address the program hold-outs and clearly define the safety benefits of programs like home fire safety surveys. One example that can be brought to the dinner table would be the ever present threat to human life that a hoarder can present. Most fire fighters probably aren’t keen on wading through 7 foot tall isles of newspapers while tripping over electrical extension cords that were strung to power the resident’s 1,000 light up clown masks that are hidden in the corner of the living room next to a collection of used propane tanks that none of the interior crews could see.
Christopher is a fire department Captain with the Kingman Fire Department. Christopher is an internationally accredited Fire Officer through the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He has a Bachelors Degree in Emergency Management from Grand Canyon University and a Masters of Business Administration from Columbia Southern University. He is also a Certified Emergency Manager through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and an ICT-3 qualified staff member. Christopher has been teaching undergraduate fire science studies for three years.