Partnership Extends Fire Department’s Reach

Friday, 18 January 2013

By Monica Colby, Posted in the NFPA Section Forum

As is the case for many fire departments in the past decade, the budget for the Layton City Fire Department in Layton, Utah, flattened while the community continued to grow. The department had an active fire safety education program in the schools until the prevention staff no longer had the time to make presentations. Part-time employees and on-duty crews filled in, but the results were disappointing—sometimes busy firefighters had to leave presentations to respond to incidents. Several years went by with no public education presence in the schools at all. 

 During those years, Fire Marshal Dean Hunt led the prevention office in improving safety by ensuring that new buildings complied with code and negotiating with existing building owners to improve their alarm systems and install fire sprinklers. Hunt started a fire corps program that checks car seats, staffs the juvenile firesetter intervention program providing free help for families when a child starts a fire, assists with mock disaster drills, and provides food, water, and shelter for first responders at major incidents. In 2011, the department’s annual open house attracted about 3,000 attendees.

Without a consistent school program, however, the number of juvenile-set fires rose 71 percent between 2006 to 2009.

To combat the rising numbers, the fire prevention division staff reached out to two high schools as part of their 2008 fire corps effort. Both schools had impact teams that try to improve the community by leading volunteer projects and teaching elementary students how to be model citizens, avoid drugs, and discourage bullying. Coincidentally, the schools were looking for a new project and were excited to form a partnership with the fire department.

Under Fire Prevention Specialist Doug Bitton’s guidance, the impact teams learned about fire safety, wrote a script, and put together costumes and props. One high school performed for all of the kindergarten through grade 3 classes in the district and the other for grades 4 through 6 and afternoon kindergarten classes. Firefighters participated in five- to ten-minute presentations about firefighters and their gear. At the end of the program, the high school students interacted with their elementary school audience to check on what they had learned and reinforce the key messages. Teachers completed surveys and parents provided unsolicited feedback.

Three years into the program, they each have reached more than 10,000 elementary school students in 27 assemblies annually. From July 2009 to July 2012, fires in the city dropped 18.5 percent, and juvenile firesetting decreased by 72 percent, according to fire department incident reports.

Next steps for the department include reaching preschool families and improving the fire safety program for kindergarteners.

In the 2011–2012 school year, one school tried out a junior fire corps education program in which volunteer sixth grade students met after school to learn a script about staying away from things that may be hot. The students performed at several schools for kindergarten classes, Head Start preschools, and neighboring preschools. The program reached 210 students in eight assemblies. In the fall of 2013, the department will add a second junior fire corps education team at another school. The two teams should be able to reach most of the children attending preschools in the city.

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