Developing Public Education Programs

Special thanks to Prevention Connection - Public Safety Task Force for their contributions to this post.

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If we treated fire and life safety education like a business, we as a fire service would be miles ahead. Businesses stay in business by offering solutions to known problems, or to problems their customers might not even know they have. As a fire service, we are pushing ourselves out of the business by not providing solutions to a very real and well known problem, the fire problem! We all know it is there, but as a “business” not always do we deliver the best solutions to our “customer”. Let’s do something big and take appropriate measures to better serve and protect communities!

We can save time and money by tapping into readily available resources that meet the critical need and address the ‘fire problem’. We also have access to codes and standards like NFPA 1730, to help us develop our own cutting edge public education programs.

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Our public education efforts should focus on programs that are interactive, engaging and provide maximum benefit to the community. Determining which programs provide the greatest value can be found by reviewing the data collected in the Community Risk Assessment (CRA). Interpreting the data and identifying the risks will focus your attention on the programs that are most needed. Here’s how it’s done:

1.  Collect the data.  Data can be collected from a variety of sources and should include local population and census information, socio-econcomic indicators, fire department run reports, and local or national trends. 

2.  Compare the data.  The collected data should then be analyzed to find trends and common, or frequently, occurring incidents.  These incidents can then be broken down by population data such as age group, socio-economic status, and geographical area of occurrence.

3.  Identify the risks.  The risks that the data shows will become the basis for your public education program.  Public education efforts should be designed to reduce or mitigate these community risks.

4.  Identify root causes.  The public education program should address the actual root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. To get to the root cause will require more in-depth analysis of the identified risks.

5.  Define goals and objectives.  The best objectives are S.M.A.R.T. objectives:
     S - specific
     M - measurable
     A - achievable
     R - realistic
     T - time-based

6.  Develop strategic partners. Reach out to other public and private organizations in the community.  They will have a shared interest in your program and may provide additional resources and/or funds.

7.  Develop the program. Create the public education programming, elements, and deliverables. Prior to spending a large amount of time creating a program from scratch, explore the many ready-made resources that are available.  Get the program started and out to the public, do not get stuck in a planning and preparing mode!

8.  Implement the program.  Deliver the program.  Don't worry about everything being perfect, just get your program to the audience that needs it.  You can always make changes and tweaks as the program grows.

9.  Evaluate the process and impact measures.  Your program should be regularly evaluated to ensure that you are reaching your target audience, and the message you want conveyed is being received. 

10.  Modify as needed.  Within a set time-frame the program should be reviewed to determine its impact.  If changes to the message, audience, or delivery are needed then make them. 

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With the many public education options available it is easy to go for the program that has the most funding, the best resources, or something the individual educator enjoys. Chasing programs can take much time, money, and resources spent on a program that still might not be solving the ‘fire problem’. Regardless, education cannot take the back seat anymore! NFPA 1730 is timely and fantastic for those of us needing to freshen up our pub ed efforts. These guidelines will help you get a new take to some of the existing curriculums, that you can build upon. Get these tools in your hand so you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Here are some terrific examples:

Public Education Resources by Target Audience

Preliminary Investigation of Fires

NFPA 1730 addresses the staffing needs and personnel requirements for fire prevention organizations conducting fire investigations.  This standard places a large emphasis on utilizing the responding units and company officer as a resource to conduct the preliminary investigation.  If a more in-depth investigation is needed or a crime has been committed then personnel assigned with this specific task can then be called.

NFPA 1730 refers the reader to the qualifications of NFPA 1021, Standard for Fire Officer Professional Qualifications which outlines the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for a company officer to conduct preliminary investigations for origin and cause.
  • Knowledge of arson methods, fire causes, fire behavior, and documentation of investigative procedures.
  • Know when to delay overhaul operations.
  • Ability to properly secure an incident scene.
  • Ability to recognize and protect potential evidence from damage and destruction.
With stretched budgets and minimal staffing, it may be best for departments to train and equip company officers (and even lower ranks) to conduct these investigations. Below are some resources that you may want to consider as you develop a department training program.

RESOURCES - Free on-line investigation training
Incendiary: The Willingham Case - video/documentary

Elements of Plan Review

For fire prevention organizations tasked with conducting plan reviews, NFPA 1730 lists 9 plan review elements. This post will examine each of these and provide links to additional resources.

1.  Fire Protection Environmental Impact (Feasibility Study). The feasibility study should examine such items as response times for fire/emergency services, communications capabilities,  hydrants availability, and water main requirements.  Any special considerations, and fire protection alternatives or equivalencies, should be documented and reviewed.
    Suggested resource: Fire Protection Approaches in Site Plan Review 

2.  Water Supply and Fire Flow. These should be conducted to ensure that the available water supply requirements can be met. If they cannot, other options should be considered and decided upon at this time.
    Suggested resource: How to Conduct Hydrant Flow Testing 

3.  Emergency Vehicle Access. This should be based on the largest piece of apparatus that the responding department may have to use.  Driving surfaces, widths, overhead clearances, loads, and turn-around's, and dead-ends should be considered.

4.  Construction Building Plans. This element of plan review should be conducted to determine code compliance, occupancy classifications, construction type, required fire protection features, fire resistance ratings, interior finishes, and any special hazards or structures.
     Suggested resource: The Art of Reading Buildings ; 101 Things I Learned in Engineering School 

5.  Certificate of Occupancy Inspections. These inspections are carried out throughout the project and can include all the trades (plumbing, electric, HVAC, etc.) and fire protection systems.  These inspections ensure that what has been approved on the plans is what is being installed in the building.
     Suggested resource: Why You're Stuck in Permitting (and how to get out!)

6.  Hazardous Materials and Processes. Any hazardous materials or processes should be reviewed for proper storage, handling, transfer, containment, emergency planning, and fire protection.
     Suggested resource: What's your MAQ? ; How to Store Hazardous Materials 

7.  Fire Protection System Plans.  These reviews confirm that required systems are in place, designed properly, and work for the structure.  These systems include, sprinklers, alarms, smoke control, fire pumps, hood systems, kitchen hoods, elevator recall, and similar items.
     Suggested resource: Sprinklers where required... ; How to Design a Fire Alarm System

8.  Fire and Life Safety Systems Field Acceptance Inspections.  These final inspections are in place to visually witness the correct operation of the fire protection systems, and confirm that all systems are in place and functional in accordance with codes, standards, and approved plans.
     Suggested resource:  Testing Integrated Fire Systems ; Understanding Pre-Action Sprinkler Systems

9.  Certificate of Occupancy (CO) issued.  This is the main objective for any building project.  After all work is completed, and all items are confirmed to be installed and functional per the approved plans, the Certificate of Occupancy can be issued, and the structure can be put into use.
     Suggested resource: The Road to C.O. - the Direct Route to Building Occupancy