Today’s Fire Service has begun to take a much more proactive approach in addressing elements within our community that pose risk to life safety. After the 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, in which 36 people died, many Fire Service providers around the country began to look at ways they might integrate with communities on a much more personal level to address dangerous conditions in their neighborhoods and cities.
The Ghost Ship incident involved a warehouse that had been modified to contain unauthorized and undocumented living spaces and art studios. The heavy loss of life was due to an exceeded occupant load (a party was taking place when the fire started), limited exiting, a labyrinth of hallways within the structure, multiple levels and stairways supported or built from wooden pallets, and extreme amounts of fuel for a fire to burn. This remains as an example and a wakeup call for communities to take a much more proactive stance on community risk reduction.
Community Risk Reduction does not only focus on the risk posed by fire hazards, it can address any risk to life, safety, or property specific to the community. Many municipalities are beginning to partner with their constituents to build relationships in order to work together in preventing and reducing incidents before they ever occur. Some agencies hold frequent open houses to encourage collaboration between first responders and members of the public.
The St. Louis Fire Department began a risk reduction program called Meeting Neighbors and Saving Lives. Their program design focused on getting members of the Department out into the neighborhoods to help residents address life and fire safety issues within their homes. Firefighting personnel went door to door to offer assistance including smoke and carbon monoxide alarms installation and battery changes, home fire safety surveys, fire escape plans, fire prevention information, and home fire extinguisher placement and training.
Since the beginning of this program, the St. Louis Fire Department has seen a 25% reduction in structure fire incidents. That reduction is significant when you consider that St Louis is approximately 70 square miles in size and contains nearly 1 million people.
The goal of any sound Community Risk Reduction plan can also be designed to address life safety factors such as fall prevention, medical conditions, access issues, weed abatement and fuel reduction, hazardous material storage, beach safety, bicycle helmet use, and car seat installation and inspection to name a few.
Your Aptos-La Selva Fire District is always looking at new and innovative ways to bridge any gaps that may exist between our crews and those we serve. By partnering with you, we can work together to lessen any issues that pose an immediate or potential threat to life or property.
Our crews and fire inspectors, under the direction of our Fire Marshal, provide fire and life safety inspections annually to all businesses within our jurisdiction. This is a typical service that generally all Fire protection providers perform. The goal is to not only ensure a safe and successful business practice, but also to get our faces out there to meet you and to work with you for a safer community.
Our agency has a successful history of working with business owners to help reduce risk. Thanks to the efforts of those business owners, their managers, and their staff, our jurisdiction has been very successful in managing risk. But, in our profession, there will always be reason to innovate and improve because the needs of the community are dynamic. It’s a moving target.
One way to improve our reach within the community is to partner with allied agencies, organizations, community leaders, educators, and homeowners. For example, the Columbus Ohio Fire Department partnered with the American Red Cross in 2015 to replace or install smoke alarms in residential neighborhoods. In a collaborative effort with homeowners and tenants, more than 1,300 smoke alarms were installed around the city. These efforts were achieved through a voluntary enrollment of residents who requested to be a part of the program.
By the end of 2016, the Columbus Fire Department and American Red Cross helped to install or replace nearly 4,000 smoke alarms. That’s great success because prior to the program, they reached only a couple of hundred citizens per year to ensure smoke alarms were properly installed or replaced.
So what are some of the ways we can make our communities safer here locally? Again, while we are always on the ready to respond to any emergency incident, we are also looking for ways to eliminate incidents from happening in the first place. Local online communities can begin by encouraging their peers to take a look at any safety issues within their neighborhoods.
Business owners can partner with other business owners to address fire safety. Educators and school administrators can evaluate risk reduction for our kids. Findings can then be identified and communicated so that a plan to reduce that risk can be implemented. There are many opportunities for us to partner together that are easy and effective.
I’d like to encourage all of you to contact or visit us at a local fire station or at our Administrative office. We’d like to maintain and improve our ties within the community that have made Aptos and the surrounding area a safe and successful place to live. Our success as a Fire District depends on a collaborative relationship with you, as we work together to maintain a safe today and a safer tomorrow.
For more on Community Risk Reduction plans, Fire Prevention, Home Fire Safety, or general information on how to partner with the Aptos-La Selva Fire District, please visit us at www.Aptosfire.com or call 831-685-6690.