How many of us remember seeing television commercials with Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service's iconic wildland fire prevention mascot, when we were children?
As I recall, and despite the fact that I grew up in the city, Smokey was a fixture between the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth. I did a quick (unscientific) poll and asked my kids (8 and 6 years old), who watch plenty of television, if they know Smokey Bear.
The answer? 'Nope.'
How many of our fire departments can afford mass media fire prevention campaigns today? For that matter, how many of our departments have lost the capacity, from budget reductions or other reasons, to perform even basic fire prevention and life safety education for the children of our communities?
Unfortunately, fire prevention is often one of the first things to go when fire department budgets are cut.
There are a number of potential reasons for this, and I certainly understand the difficult decisions communities face during periods of fiscal stress, but I often hear that fire prevention isn't always considered part of fire departments' core mission. Really?
What could possibly be more central to our mission than preventing fires and the related deaths, injuries, property loss, and environmental damage?
Similarly, what's more efficient: sending multiple fire apparatus and firefighters to battle a major blaze started by a careless (or uninformed) youth; or sending a qualified life safety educator into the schools to reach hundreds of children with the basic fire safety messages we all remember from growing-up?
By the way, Smokey Bear is alive and well: www.smokeybear.com.