Community Risk Reduction in California is an emerging and important component of modern fire prevention. MySafe:California is working to create tools, support, and programs and help agencies throughout California better implement these new fire prevention practices. Our parent organization is called the Safe Community Project, Inc., and has been involved in professional private fire and life safety education since 2008.
The public expects that certain services be provided by local government, including police protection, fire protection, and various city services, such as water and power. In some cases, those services are managed by private or semi-private organizations, but the overall result is the same. If you live in any city in California, you have an expectation that your basic life/safety needs will be provided for.
So, what is “community risk reduction?”
MySafe:California is actively working to reduce the threat of fire in your home by doing things the fire department has not traditionally been able to do on their own. Regardless of the entity engaged in the process, the act of prevention – taking steps before the problem arises – is what community risk reduction is all about.
Unfortunately, in today’s accountability-driven metric world, being able to focus on all of the required elements for fire and life safety are daunting. Add in the evolving and growing medical services most fire departments provide, and fire prevention becomes a challenging and complex process. Most fire department Fire Prevention Bureaus or Units (depending on the size of the agency) are responsible for the city’s Fire Code, for enforcing it, not to mention inspecting commercial, industrial, as well as other types of structures. They work to ensure churches are safe, that schools are prepared for fire/disasters, and many other tasks.
Back in the early part of the last century, visiting homes and inspecting them for fire problems was more possible. There were fewer homes. Firemen had more time. Today’s firefighters don’t have time for much beyond training and responding to calls for help. Even as recently as the 1940s, it was becoming apparent that the fire department could not reach as many homes as it would like.
One of the earliest forms of community risk reduction was implemented by the Los Angeles Fire Department. Chief Engineer John Alderson implemented the Junior Fire Department Program. Working with the Los Angeles Board of Education, specific time was set aside in classrooms to teach elementary age students about fire prevention. They inspected their homes for fire dangers, and took a series of short quizzes, all designed to push fire prevention home to families and extended families.
The program worked well. During the first year, 29,052 students became Junior Fire Department members, and 10,105 of them earned inspector’s badges. Those students found and corrected an estimated 96,000 fire hazards in their homes. It was the birth of community risk reduction in the western United States. The program was effective for more than 20 years, but eventually became too challenging to manage, and as the classroom requirements became more complex, budget requirements changed, and the model of the fire department evolved, the Junior Fire Department languished until is ceased to exist in 1970.
Fast forward to 2008, and the initial pilot for The Safe Community Project. Our founding directors knew that working with children would be an effective method of getting fire prevention messages home – and that parents, grand parents and the extended family would benefit from the enthusiasm shared by their elementary school aged children.
The answer was the first operational unit for The Safe Community Project: MySafe:California. During the past six years, MySafe:California has delivered fire and life safety education to more than 250,000 Los Angeles school children. They’ve taken fire knowledge quizzes, received free smoke alarms and other materials, and have been taught the key things to know about fire safety in the home – having a plan, practicing it, knowing where to meet, how to manage pets during an emergency, and much more.
In 2012, MySafe:California began a new, modern Junior Fire Inspector Program. Based loosely on the original program conceived by LAFD Chief Alderson, 4th and 5th grade students were given a series of steps to take, including inspecting their home for working smoke alarms. If any student needed a smoke alarm, MySafe:California would provide one at no cost. If batteries were required, MySafe:California would provide those as well, also at no cost. In the first two years of the program, more than 3,300 students in LA School earned Junior Fire Inspector ID Cards, and thousands more were exposed to the key fire prevention initiatives so important to a safer community.
Throughout all of these efforts, MySafe:California has collaborated with the Los Angeles Fire Department to promote the capabilities of the Department, and to get the public involved in the fire prevention process – creating true community engagement. MySafe:California doesn’t use any city or LAFD funds, and as such, it creates a valued private/public partnership with the Department and with the City of Los Angeles.
Local fire companies are featured at school and older adult fire safety presentations. MySafe:California developed “Pledge Cards” that all LAFD stations use to gain basic information from residents when they inquire about and receive free smoke alarms. The Department’s research unit gathers the data collected, but most of the analysis, logistics, printing, and cost related to these initiatives is managed by MySafe:California. As such, the firefighters are presented to the community as their local heroes; the men and women who rush into dangerous situations when most of us are running away. Yet, these firefighters can focus on their key missions (there are many to manage), leaving the heavy lifting to the Safe Community Project and MySafe:California.
MySafe:California’s leadership has worked diligently to ensure its programs conform to evolving national standards, and it shares information openly with partners. The innovative Vision 20/20 project, headed up by retired Fire Marshal Jim Crawford is one example of a collaborative engagement. MySafe:California also works within NFPA and USFA and IAFF guidelines to ensure the most accurate and appropriate messages and content are shared with the public.
Now, the introduction of MySafe:California creates a new opportunity for collaborative efforts in fire prevention and Community Risk Reduction (CRR). The first step is this new website. This web ecosystem will serve as a community resource center for fire departments of any size, for teachers, and ultimately for the community at large.
MySafe:California will provide a series of materials — customized to represent the issues that exist in California, with local themes and messages — and make those available to any fire agency that comes on board as a CRR partner.
MySafe:California will also be conducting research within the State, focusing on the issues and needs of fire departments large and small, career and volunteer. The results of this research suite will be used to facilitate increased budgets, smoke alarms and CO detectors, and installation teams that will be able to focus on reducing risk in the community not only for fire, but earthquake as well.
Our educators and smoke alarm installation teams will coordinate and collaborate with fire department prevention units/divisions/bureaus. We’ll work to help identify solutions that can be used directly by your agency, or in collaboration with us. We’ll visit homes, inspect them for hazards, and track what we find.
These inspections will gather key data about the condition of homes, their level of fire readiness, and the degree to which the residents are prepared to act in the event of a fire. The data will be collected using a new software “app” developed by a new partner, PureCommand, LLC, and will be shared in a new database that will hopefully help fire departments to better understand the true fire risks that exist, and how to best manage mitigation of those dangers.