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We Need Real-Time Public Education

Fire and life safety education saved this family – knowledge not technology.

There was a fire on January 18, 2016 in Blue Mountains, Ontario, it was in an 80-year old farmhouse. Thirteen people (4 adults and 9 children under 16 years of age) were asleep. All thirteen people escaped the fire, since they responded correctly when the smoke alarms sounded. Arriving firefighters found the house fully engulfed in flames; no injuries to occupants.

The fire prevention and education programs enforced by the fire dept. is what saved these people – knowledge instead of technology.

Since legislators seem to be reluctant to develop a law mandating fire sprinklers, perhaps a more aggressive approach to educating and training everyone – developing resilience – would work better, faster. We cannot win them all, even with the best technology, as long as human unpredictability is a factor. Situational awareness for citizens has a greater chance of saving lives.

The above statement was made to an article that I wrote and posted in one of the LinkedIn Groups and it comes from Michael Dube, a Certified Organizational Resilience Specialist (CORS), in Ontario, Canada. My theme in the article was that we–the fire service in particular–have to become more active in advocating, and yes demanding, that residential fire sprinklers be a requirement for all new residential housing regardless of its size.

Fire and Life Safety Educator, Samantha Hoffmann, of Barrie Fire and Emergency Services, posted this comment and I could not agree more:

Get media reporting on why people are not dying in fires instead of those who are. What steps are they taking to survive?

Mainstream media is great but don’t forget we have more communication channels than ever in the history of the human race…..


We have to get better at capturing the success story when it happens with our own “on-scene” interviews with fire survivors telling their story in real time. When the fear and thankfulness are still in their eyes and their voices. And when they are the ones saying:

“When I heard the smoke alarm going off…”

“Honey (Mom looking at her child), you were so brave! You got you and your sister out of the house just like we practiced.”

“When we couldn’t get down the hallway to the boys’ bedroom [on second floor] we hoped and prayed they remembered how to get out. Our hearts burst with relief and joy when we saw the escape ladder hanging from the window and our two boys standing by the big oak tree.”

Those messages would be much more powerful than the same story told days, weeks, or even months later with Mom, Dad, and their four children sitting in the [Insert any sterile location that has no connection to the fire, e.g., TV studio or relative’s living room].

And delivering that message via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., would be getting that story to more people via their primary means of getting information today: their smartphones and tablets, not the 6:00 pm local news broadcast.

Radical idea you might say? Not so…………. Consider this:

People don’t wear their seatbelts nor do they drink and drive because we told them “warm & fuzzy” stories of why they should adopt those behaviors, do they? No, people buckle up in their cars and they don’t drink and drive because of news coverage and public safety announcements (PSAs) that emphasized the terrible outcomes–with powerful graphics and images and words–that drove home the message. Like today’s campaigns to stop drivers from texting while driving.

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About the author: Robert Avsec

I'm a retired fire department battalion chief (26 years on the job!) who's embarked upon a 2nd career as a freelance writer. One of my passions as a writer is combining my fire service experience with my writing ability to promote the need for effective fire and life safety education, especially for children.

One of my most passionate positions is that too many fire departments continue to have a fire suppression focus and not near enough of a fire prevention focus. Responding to fires after they occur has been, is, and always will be a losing end-game. Fire departments must "up their game" to address the public fire and life safety education of children and adults in their communities so that every citizen has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to avoid becoming the victim of a preventable fire.

My writings appear on: my blog, Talking "Shop" 4 Fire and EMS; FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com.

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