‘Only YOU can protect the planet’: Action items for firefighters this Earth Day

Simple steps make a difference, and big shifts can be monumental in the fight against climate change


The climate crisis impacts every single one of us – and the generations that follow.

While it can feel overwhelming at times, not knowing where to begin or feeling unsure about our individual impact, there are simple steps – and big ones, too – that we can take to help protect the planet from the impact of greenhouse gases, toxic chemicals, waste, water shortages and other factors that negatively impact the environment.

Plus, there are many actions specific to life at the firehouse. After all, firefighters strive to prevent structures from burning down and adapt tactics to account for the impact of modern furnishings. Let’s extend that vision to the planet and adapt tactics to prevent her from burning fiercer every year.

8 steps in the right direction

Smokey Bear long touted, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires” (previously labeled “forest fires”). Similarly, it’s important to recognize our individual role in protecting the planet. Here are some actions to consider working into your activities at the station or even worth considering implementing department-wide.

1. Reduce, reuse and recycle at the station: This is an easy one! Anyone can recycle. Set up recycling bins and post a cheat sheet on the fridge so everyone knows what can and can’t be recycled. Be mindful of the waste you create, understanding that so much of it goes straight into a landfill. Consider what you can reuse instead of trashing, too. Here’s a cheat sheet:

Photo/EPA

2. Shop smart: Community members, especially kids, love to see firefighters at the grocery store – and yes, some community members will always bemoan something about this simple, normal activity. Let’s put them aside for now and focus on the shopping. Take reusable bags to the store. It’s one of the easiest ways to cut down on waste. Unless there’s a spill, they don’t need to be washed or managed. They just go back on the truck or in the cupboard. Plus, in some states, you’ll save money for bringing a reusable bag. Win-win.

3. Conserve water – when it doesn’t matter: OK, this seems like an odd one for firefighters, but hear me out. No one is suggesting that you conserve water on the fire scene. Use as much water as you need to protect life and property. And no one is suggesting you shorten your shower post-fire call. You need to wash the toxins down the drain. Where you can make a difference is with some of the ancillary station activities, like washing your car. This is a controversial issue for a variety of reasons, like the community members who complain about seeing firefighters using water paid for by taxpayers to wash their personal vehicles. But the fact of the matter is, this is happening at departments around the country. And if it’s happening, then let’s at least be smart about how much water is going down the drain. There are serious water shortages in many areas, and when drought strikes, we must be mindful about water conservation.

4. Volunteer for cleanup events – or just clean up when you can: Fire personnel participate in many fire and life safety events, plus many more general community events, like parades or fundraisers. Extend this goodwill to environmentally focused events, like park or beach cleanups. Firefighters are leaders in the community, and your actions make a difference in the community. Wear your station gear or department T-shirt to show your support and build goodwill within the community. And don’t forget to snag that piece of litter when you’re walking down the street. It only takes a second to throw away a loose piece of trash, but the environmental impact is big and sets a good example for others.

[Read next: Trust in the fire service: Earned or assumed?]

5. Plant a tree at the station: You’ll probably need department approval for this one, but it can’t hurt to ask. As the Arbor Day Foundation explains, planting a tree is one of the easiest and most powerful things you can do to have a positive impact on the environment. Trees clean the air, prevent rainwater runoff, help save energy and even combat climate change. Plus, they look great and can provide much-needed shade. Many areas have tree-planting programs where you can get trees through the city or county for free.

6. Consider adding an EV (or EVs) to your fleet: Now we’ve reached the “big shifts” element to this discussion. Like it or not, electric vehicles are here. There’s been a lot of debate and discussion about the feasibility of EVs in the fire service, and we answer key questions here. And check out these EV myths, as explained by the EPA. The bottom line is that EVs typically have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline cars, even when accounting for the electricity used for charging. Further, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an EV over its lifetime are typically lower than those from an average gasoline-powered vehicle, even when accounting for manufacturing, according to the EPA. Visit any major fire service conference these days and you’ll see how apparatus manufacturers are incorporating EVs into their fleets.

7. Go beyond the station: There are some aspects of station life that will prevent you from taking actions that benefit the environment. That’s the case with many jobs across many industries. So if you can’t take action at the station, then try to double-down at home. This has the added benefit of setting the example for your kids, friends or others in your life. Reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible; use energy-efficient products, like lightbulbs; plant trees in your yard; and volunteer when you can. Of course, there are a host of other actions you can take to make a difference. Start Googling and you’ll be sure to find some action items that fit into your routine. We’ll get you started ….

8. Stay informed

There are countless organizations dedicated to protecting the planet from climate change. Here are just a few resources to check out, whether for educational purposes or financial support:

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