USFA: It’s time to adopt common life safety messaging
At CFSI’s annual symposium, the fire administrator touted enhanced collaboration and consistency of messaging from fire service groups
Collaboration is THE KEY to getting things done. We may not get everything done at the pace we want it to be done, but we continue to collaborate with others, including our fire service brothers and sisters, to navigate the labyrinth of life – and our life safety efforts.
At the 2022 Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) Symposium in Washington, D.C., this month, more than 1,100 fire service leaders and allied constituents came together for three days of education, lobbying Congress, and various meetings. It was certainly refreshing to meet with our fire service peers face to face, many for the first time in a couple years.
One of the key points to emerge from the CFSI event was the need for enhanced collaboration and consistency of messaging.
In a previous article, I discussed the “The acceptance of conflict” that the fire service sometimes exhibits, with the 30,000 different looks and opinions of what we do. Recognizing that challenge, U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell discussed a new program, “Step Up for Fire Safety,” aimed at bringing common-theme monthly messaging from our constituent organizations like the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), NFPA and many others.
Dr. Moore-Merrell was clear that the initiative is agnostic to the content or delivery style, however the program endeavors to have organizations adopt a common messaging theme for monthly fire safety, prevention and community risk reduction (CRR) efforts, focused on topics like smoke alarms, carbon monoxide, water safety and roadway dangers.
The additional challenge to the “Step Up for Fire Safety” effort will be for each of us at the local level (the 30,000 fire departments) to embrace the common messaging and share it in the effort to enhance the fire service voice and visibility – I’ll call it the REFUSAL to accept conflict! As additional information becomes available from the USFA, we will pass the information along.
Collaboration among schools
As the formal events of the CFSI events concluded, former Congressman Curt Weldon introduced me to two individuals who were working to spread the message of civic responsibility in the school systems.
Elementary schools: A somewhat novel effort sponsored by the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement engages fire service personnel in a K-12 program. At the elementary school level, the Rendell Center uses read-aloud lessons where firefighters read to students either in-person or through a virtual platform. The firefighters then engage with a series of questions and answers, based on prepackaged information provided. The process takes about 30-45 minutes of the firefighter’s time.
According to the literature Rendell Executive Director Beth Specker shared with me, the Rendell Center works with the schools to provide “curriculum-based lesson plans, offers titles for teachers to incorporate into their curriculum, provide insights into the book selected to enhance the read aloud session, and deliver activities for presenting civics learning in a fun and memorable way.”
Secondary schools: Complementing and in partnership with the Rendell Center’s efforts, the Schoolhouse to Firehouse (S2F) program is geared toward high school students. The program is currently ongoing in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, under the leadership of Nether Providence Township Fire Lieutenant Ellen Yarborough.
Tapping into the civic-service spirit of the elementary program, the S2F program is engaging teens to teach home safety to preschoolers, fire safety to the high school science department, to serve on student Safety Teams, and to join local volunteer fire departments. Students in this program earn one elective high school credit for every 200 hours of running calls, training and participating in public events for the firehouse.
The program, in general terms, is similar to many of the high school cadet programs in place in various states around the country. Many of the high school cadet programs are not directly public/private partnerships and are usually a connection between the school system and the fire department. Many of these cadet programs offer elective college credits for courses like Firefighter 1 and 2, EMT and hazardous materials operations. The key difference in the S2F program is the connection with the Rendell Center.
Both programs are great examples of collaboration. Understanding that the fire service has experienced a decline in both volunteer and paid applicants, these programs (with sustainable funding) can be poised to provide a productive path toward not only future paid and volunteer firefighters but also more civically minded teens and adults – the future of the fire service!