FHLN Podcast

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation presents the following podcasts in support of the Foundation's community risk reduction program, Be a Hero, Save a Hero®.

Be a Hero, Save a Hero®; supports Firefighter Life Safety Initiative 14 "Public education must receive more resources and be championed as a critical fire and life safety program" and Firefighter Life Safety Initiative 15 "Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers". For more information, visit BeaHeroSaveaHero.org.

Community Risk Reduction Part 1


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DAVE STATTER: This is the Fire Hero Learning Network, and I’m Dave Statter with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Our topic today is CRR. Do those initials mean anything to you as a firefighter? CRR is community risk reduction. Three veteran firefighters are joining me today who not only know a thing or two about fighting fires, but will explain why a company officer should care about community risk reduction. Community risk reduction is a key to the savings lives part of the phrase that we’re all familiar with - fighting fires and saving lives.

With me today are Jim McCann, who’s a firefighter/EMT with Barren Hill Fire Company in Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania, that’s Montgomery County in Pennsylvania. John Sullivan, the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Worcester Fire Department in Worcester, Mass and Johnny Brewington, he’s the retired Battalion Chief of the Cleveland Division of Fire. Gentlemen, thanks for joining me.

Chief Brewington, we’re going to start with you. Why are you here? Why is this important to you?

CHIEF BREWINGTON: Well, community risk reduction is important to the Cleveland Fire Department, but to the fire industry as a whole because it helps save the lives of firefighters, it helps save the lives of citizens and it also helps protect a lot of valuable property by trying to prevent that tragic fire situation or at least minimize the impact if you have that type of situation.

DAVE STATTER: Chief Sullivan.

CHIEF SULLIVAN: Dave, there’s always been kind of a chasm between the operations side and the fire prevention side, and one of the things that I learned as a young company officer is that as a fire officer I can also have an impact in the community by paying more attention to that side of the house than I was doing at the time. And as I’ve moved up through the ranks and gotten to the position that I’m in now, it’s been my goal to bridge that gap between the community risk reduction side of the fire service and the operation side and by doing that - by giving the relevance to the folks on the operations side and seeing what an impact we can have and what an impact it is for them and their safety by being proactive on that community risk reduction side of the house in the Operations Division that we’re going to impact lives not only the citizens, but firefighters as well.

DAVE STATTER: You two Chiefs come from sizeable urban departments, we’ve got Firefighter McCann here. You’re a firefighter, you’re a different level possibly, we should say, and maybe a different perspective, what does it mean to you?

FIREFIGHTER MCCANN: I come from a combination department being the only career personnel there. What we do is implement this and we use it as a tool for the firefighters to be able to get out and be in the community. We know that it’s worked for us positively by having a fire and going back to the house and having lives saved by doing this. So I think other fire departments need to look at this. We need to be proactive rather than reactive. I’d much rather get up at one o’clock in the morning or 11 and put a small fire out and be home in bed again then wait until five o’clock in the morning when there’s fatalities.

DAVE STATTER: Pretend I’m a new, young company officer, say it’s in a pretty busy fire company in an urban area, we run a lot of EMS calls probably, with a fair amount of fire calls. Give it your best shot and explain to me why I should care about community risk reduction when I have so many other things to care about? Where do I have time for this? How does it fit in for me and for the well being of my crew? Chief Sullivan.

CHIEF SULLIVAN: One of the things that we implemented about two years ago now and they’re just seeing the impacts, is neighborhood sweeps after a fire occurs creating a synergy between the Fire Investigative Unit, the Public Education Unit and the operations side. Once the fire investigation unit has thoroughly investigated that fire and comes up with a cause and determination, then my Public Education Unit has the ability to put together information for the neighborhood about what happened in their neighbor’s house.

Then we get the company officers in that district to go out with our public educators and do a sweep of about a two block area - we’re the fire department from down the street, you know your neighbor had a fire in their house the other day, we’ve determined that it was from cooking. Here’s some information on cooking fires and how you can prevent them in your home, and by the way, do you have a smoke detector, and if so, why don’t you let us check it out and make sure it’s within the date compliance for smoke detectors and that it’s properly working and properly installed and if it’s not, we’ll give you a smoke detector.

And I said, and then play that out, fellas, three months later, you didn’t do that and Mrs. Jones across the street has that fire again and this time it gets away because she has a hearing problem and she can’t hear that smoke detector that’s not working even if it did work. And that ends up in a fatality where we have a firefighter injured because now we have this fire that’s progressed well beyond the incipient stage because the call didn’t come into 911 and we’ve got a firefighter injured or killed trying to save Mrs. Jones, which we could have prevented three months earlier by one hour of your time going out and knocking on the door.

And so, the relevance of community to risk reduction at the company officer level is something that you can teach them and give them and make it hit home and for me that’s the most important thing as a Deputy Chief of Operations is to say, okay, guys, this is why it’s important. It’s all well and good to say it’s important because it’s good for the community, but you really got to drive it home as to how it’s going to come back and affect them in the long run.

DAVE STATTER: Jim, you buy what he’s saying?

JIM MCCANN: Absolutely.

DAVE STATTER: How does it relate into your department?

FIREFIGHTER MCCANN: We have a smaller department, but we’ve been doing it for years. When I first started there we didn’t have any smoke detectors to give out and I said to the Fire Marshall, we have older people coming and looking for smoke detectors and it’s not their fault that they don’t have one, they may not know where to get one, they certainly don’t know how to put them up. We go into houses and they’re installed improperly and you certainly don’t want older people up on a ladder, they’re going to fall and get hurt. So we target the older community when we send out our fund drive, we put a list in there - do you need help changing a battery or do you need a smoke detector or is your smoke detector older than ten years old?

And, for instance, one of the ones that I remember specifically is we went to a gentleman’s house and I saw his license plate on his car and it said Pearl Harbor Survivor and I thought, wow. He had his WWII cap on and I thought what a terrible thing if this gentleman was able to survive Pearl Harbor and die in a fire in his community because he didn’t have a working smoke detector.

DAVE STATTER: Wow, that’s a good story. Did you fellow firefighters buy this?

FIREFIGHTER MCCANN: Oh absolutely. We make it fun because they go out and they get to do driver training and if I don’t have a guy that’s driver training, I take a younger guy and I put him in the front seat and say you’re the officer, we’re going to 123 Elm Street, how do we get there and they’ve got to get the map book out. Where’s my closest hydrant? Where’s my second closest hydrant? So we work it that way.

DAVE STATTER: So you’re integrating it into what other drilling and training that you need to do?


DAVE STATTER: That’s pretty smart. You know, you’ve heard what these guys had to say, give me your experience in Cleveland and how you relate to a firefighter who might be reluctant?

CHIEF BREWINGTON: I start off by saying fire is everyone’s fight. There’s an impact for everyone involved; for the company officer, for the firefighter, for the population, civilian based, so I try to personalize it both on the economic situation, as well as think of this as one of your family members and how would you want this to be in the community where you live when you want that risk to be reduced?

DAVE STATTER: Does it work?

CHIEF BREWINGTON: Yes, it does work.

DAVE STATTER: Still people though, I’m sure there are a few reluctant ones.

CHIEF BREWINGTON: Initially, firefighters are individuals that once you get them into the activity, they embrace it, but you have to get them into the activity. Naturally, when you bring something that’s new, people will say, well, we’re already doing something like that or we tried that and it didn’t work, but there’s one thing about a firefighter, and I don’t care what community they come from, once you get them involved in something, they take it over and they are on it.

DAVE STATTER: I always said that firefighters are can do kind of people, that they make it happen, very much so.

You mentioned something, Chief Sullivan, which kind of relates to a program we’re doing at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation - Be a Hero, Save a Hero, which as I recall, is related to life safety initiative 14 of the 16 life safety initiatives, and essentially, if people are fire safe at home, they help save the life of a firefighter, keep the firefighter from being injured with smoke alarms, with automatic sprinklers. Kidde is now funding our Be a Hero, Save a Hero Program. That concept is important to you apparently.

CHIEF SULLIVAN: Having suffered through line of duty deaths in my career, I don’t want to see that happen to anybody again in any community, anywhere. And if we can utilize our time that we are not on the emergency call by educating and helping the citizen to make their home safe we have that double edge sword, we have that double ability to make not only the citizens that we’re sworn to protect safe in their homes, but ultimately that transitions out to us being safer because that fire never occurs or it stays small and then we get the call earlier because of a working smoke detector. It all has relevance to us back in the station and that is to make sure that everybody goes home. Once we gave them the WIIFM, what’s in it for me, and let them get out there and see and get the smile back from an elderly woman who maybe hasn’t had anybody knock on her door for months on end, and then there’s two big handsome strapping firefighters standing there waiting to help her out because a neighbor had a problem and all of a sudden we have given ourselves to that level to the community to say, we’re not only going to help the citizens that had the fire, but we’re going to spread it out over the community and make sure that they’re safe and ultimately we’re safe.

DAVE STATTER: So you’re talking about personalization, which seems to be a real key to reaching the company officers, the firefighters in the way that you talked about it, Chief Brewington, in both the tax base in the way you did or saving somebody who is very similar to their own relative. And you talk about it, Chief Sullivan, in the area of saving a firefighter’s life or preventing an injury. Very important stuff, but the other thing that may not be understood by the average company, officer or the average firefighter, are the various things that make up community risk reduction.

CHIEF SULLIVAN: What we’ve done in relation to the fire officer is education. These guys, as I said before, want to help, they want to be a part of the solution, they want to be part of the community. Often times what we heard when we first did our risk assessment of the community and how we could, in the operation side, be part of that was I don’t know how to do what you’re asking me to do. So we were doing the schools and at the fire stations and doing the stop, drop, and roll and the traditional things, the visits to the elementary schools, but there was no curriculum to it. There was nothing that said this is what we need to do in order to be consistent and get that consistent message out.

And once we implemented into our officer’s school that the Public Education Division is going to come in on every officer school and give you a piece to be able to make you more relevant when you go out there and make that consistent message so that you’re not struggling with what it is we’re trying to give to the community, that it’s a clear, consistent message every single time and then translate that through every one of the programs that we had, that made it a lot easier for us to get that buy in from that company officer and get those programs out. And once they get there, they want to do it now. Now it becomes a fabric of the everyday purpose of why the operations division comes to the table, it’s part of the community and they really want to have that interaction.

DAVE STATTER: In a sense, and tell me if I’m wrong here, is it the preplanning that firefighters do as part of community risk reduction - isn’t that an important element to get out into the community to see what the hazards are and how to mitigate it?

An example we’ve talked about as we were planning this get together, was recently in Buffalo, where firefighters had been out in the community, they were looking at a building and they realized it had some issues. They showed up, they got heavy fire conditions and the - immediately the company officer says we’re going defensive, and why did he said that, it was based on being out in the community and seeing this building and he had done a preplan on it. In a sense, can you integrate that into a community risk reduction?

CHIEF SULLIVAN: When you do a pre-fire plan, you are creating an atmosphere whereas you’re creating a knowledge base within that company that they didn’t have previously. And that can only serve to make better decisions on the fire ground and as pre-fire plans - pre-fire plans are the key to good decision making by the fire officers. There’s nothing that can supplant a pre-fire plan in the area of decision making and every good safe act that happens on the fire ground, happens because of either experience, training or preplanning, one of those three things.

DAVE STATTER: But you are the fire department, you’ve taken on more roles in recent years in the fire service, is that important in these economic times?

CHIEF BREWINGTON: Yes, and it’s also important to have partnerships that help you carry out those additional roles.

DAVE STATTER: For example, if the motivation of a firefighter, you mentioned before the tax base, but there’s also this idea that you might be expendable, you’re in operations - well, don’t you think that would be the last place they cut, but they are cutting operations.

CHIEF BREWINGTON: Yes, they are cutting operations and on the administrative side, it’s already been cut so lean so by showing from the operational side your capabilities are expanding. When I first came into this career, primarily it was putting the wet stuff on the...stuff, becoming a medical provider. Well, we have to see our role constantly changing and increasing, not minimizing those other important factors of being able to mitigate a fire and go to a medical emergency, but our box will continue to expand and we just got to understand how to capture and benefit from that expansion.

DAVE STATTER: In some ways, Chief Sullivan, we go from saving a firefighter’s life to saving a firefighter’s job by being able to do more roles.

CHIEF SULLIVAN: Well, it’s pretty simple. All politics is local, Tip O’Neil said it, it still holds true today. If you want to get support from your municipal leaders, you have to show them that you’re impacting the community. Everybody knows that the fire department is a red number in the budget. We don’t bring in as much money as we spend. It’s just a pure simple fact. So we’ve got to make up that difference in the community impact. And we have, in the past, been able to rest on our laurels of what we did on the suppression side and everybody loved it and everybody said, oh we - the fire department is wonderful. Those days are dwindling. The police had it 25-30 years ago with community policing and community impact programs and they saw the handwriting on the wall and said, we’re going to get out on the foot beat again, we’re going to get into the neighborhoods and we’re going to impact them at the neighborhoods. I try to sell this to the firefighters at that level in the exact same manner to say, you want to save jobs, you need to show that you are - you, John Q. Public, is going to see you not when they just call 911, but at other times as well. That’s going to translate to public support, which is going to translate to votes, which is going to translate to calls to your municipal leaders, which is going to translate to your budget being stabilized at least to a certain degree.

We all have economic times that are causing us a lot of problems and the federal government has been doing a great job supporting the fire service over the last 10-15 years since 911, since the Worchester tragedy, with the Fire Act grants and the SAFER grants and all kinds of things, but those things are starting to dry up as well and we’ve got to be more creative as to how we impact our station within the community and community risk reduction and getting out into the streets equals votes, votes equal money, money to the fire department.

DAVE STATTER: You have community policing, this is community firefighting.


DAVE STATTER: Anyone have some thoughts, as we wrap this up? A brief message for the company officer, again, why this is important?

CHIEF BREWINGTON: What I would say to any company officer in any fire department, it’s a new critical component in the toolbox for us to expand the impact that we can have in the communities we serve.

DAVE STATTER: Chief Sullivan.

CHIEF SULLIVAN: The fire ground priorities don’t change even before the fire occurs. It’s life safety, incident stabilization , property conservation. We have an obligation as a fire department, not as operations versus fire prevention, we have an obligation as a fire department to do everything that we can to make sure that that happens by opening up and connecting that bridge between operations and fire prevention, we expand our ability to do those three fire ground priorities exponentially and that’s where it lies – saving lives is what we get paid to do and by doing that proactively as opposed to reactively, we’re still saving lives. We just need to market ourselves better, we’ve got to be better at public relations than we are. We have too much humility and not enough pride sometimes to say we saved a life by putting a smoke detector up.

DAVE STATTER: Firefighter McCann, any message for firefighters out there?

FIREFIGHTER MCCANN: It’s part of your job, protect property and save lives and it’s a safer way to do it.

DAVE STATTER: Very good. Gentlemen, thank you. We’ve been talking with John Sullivan, who’s the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Worcester Fire Department, in Worcester, Mass, Jim McCann, who’s the house engineer/firefighter/EMT, Barren Hill Fire Company in Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania in Montgomery County and Johnny Brewington, who is a retired Battalion Chief from the Cleveland Division of Fire. We’ve been talking about community risk reduction and this is just Part 1, in Part 2, we’re going to talk with these same gentlemen and how you implement a program, more specifics about a program, we’re going to talk about funding, we’re going to talk about the news media end of it and social media, all of these things that come into play with community risk reduction. I’m Dave Statter and you’ve been listening to the Fire Hero Learning Network.

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Community Risk Reduction Part 2 - This episode highlights Community Risk Reduction (CRR) and talks about how to implement a program, what are the best practices, how to make that program work with your department.

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