Firefighters and EMS personnel often take on the role of public safety educators by going to local schools and teaching important fire and life safety messages to students. While this is a critical and even life-saving community service, the use of first responders for these activities can take away from a department's ability to respond to emergencies by pulling firefighters and EMS personnel from the frontlines.

The Manteca Fire Department, a career department located an hour from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, decided to address this issue and called on retired community members for help. Their solution was SAFE, or Seniors Assisting the Fire Effort. A registered Fire Corps program since April 2006, SAFE consists of 24 senior citizens who, through their non-emergency assistance, contribute to the department’s mission to “protect, prevent, prepare, and provide.” SAFE members help with the department’s Fire Awareness In The Schools (FAITS) Program, an injury prevention program that educates Manteca's elementary schools from second to sixth grade about various fire and life safety concerns. Manteca's first responders are often on-call during FAITS presentations. For that reason, SAFE volunteers arrive in uniform at the school with the engine company; should a call come in, SAFE members can step in and continue the training until either the engine returns or the session is over.

“These events make a major difference in our communities’ quality of life, and we know from talking with the students years later that they remember the training and what to do in an emergency,” said Jim Fey, Manteca Fire Department’s Administration Supervisor of the SAFE program. “This would not be possible without the help of our SAFE volunteers.”

In addition to the educational outreach assistance, SAFE members help the department in a variety of other ways. SAFE activities include:

  • Community Event Reinforcement: SAFE volunteers distribute fire safety literature and provide children with an overview and tour of the department’s fire engines. The members also participate in the local “Heart Lab” training for students, educating students on very basic CPR, First Aid, and healthy living and lifestyles, such as the benefits of exercise, good nutrition, and not smoking.

  • Training Assistance: The SAFE team recently assisted the department in a three-day mass-casualty training event where they posed as victims with mock injuries, which added an element of realism to the exercise.

  • Clerical Duties: SAFE volunteers help the fire prevention bureau with clerical duties related to the department’s weed abatement program. This program is intended to prevent fire hazards created by vegetative growth and the accumulation of flammable debris.

  • Technical Assistance: One SAFE member is a radio/communications expert and has been a valuable resource in evaluating options to overcome current dispatch challenges.

  • Disaster preparedness: SAFE members have been cross-trained as Ham radio operators and will serve as a valuable resource to the department in the event of disaster. These operators were trained by a SAFE member, a retired Senior whose background was in communications.

  • Explorer Program: A team of youth Explorers is assigned to a SAFE volunteer at community events. The SAFE member supervises while the Explorers help children try on turnout gear and explore the department's apparatus. One SAFE member has taken on the role of an Explorer program adviser. The Explorer program currently has 20 members and is a way for youth to give back to the community while gaining invaluable experience.

 

Administration Division Chief Kirk Waters noted that the relationship between the department and volunteers has been successful because the seniors are able to use their life skills to perform roles and responsibilities they are interested in, while at the same time meeting the department’s needs and serving the community. “Everyone has something to contribute, and we are very grateful for their enthusiasm and fortunate to have their support,” he said.

 

For more information on the Manteca Fire Department’s SAFE program, visit www.ci.manteca.ca.us/fire.

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