AMU Emergency Management Opinion Public Safety

Effects of Not Being Able to Interact with the Public

By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

COVID-19 has required many adjustments for the Fire Department, including not interacting with the public for community risk reduction activities, such as Fire Prevention Month in October. While fire departments have a wide range of engagement with their citizens from integration into their school and home lives to only interacting at emergencies, each fire department often tries to interact with schoolchildren during fire prevention month. However, this year, no department would interact due to the possibility of giving or receiving the coronavirus.

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The Services Offered by Fire Departments

Each fire department sets the programs that are offered to the community, and there are no laws that require certain program offering. However, there are a core list of services that are offered by most departments. These services are often based on fire prevention and EMS first response.

Some of the services offered are:

  • Fire Prevention Talks for Schools — Each year in October, the National Fire Protection Association presents programs and resources that local fire departments can take to the schools in their area to train school-age children. Firefighters often train on how to crawl low in the smoke, how to plan escape routes from your home and how to call 911 in case of an emergency. This is often knowledge that is carried throughout life and is not information attained via other means.
  • Fire Extinguisher Classes — Many departments interact with their business community to help train employees in fire safety and fire extinguisher use. This ensures that if a fire starts in a commercial property during occupied hours that the employees understand how to triage the event and provide limited roles in early mitigation of small fire events. This can often keep a fire small or extinguish the fire while small preventing a larger loss to the business to include a complete loss of the business, as the majority of small businesses do not reopen after a fire. Many arrangements allow the business owner to only have to provide the employees the time to participate, as the fire department purchases the props and supplies for the class, many times through grant monies.
  • CPR Classes — This community interaction often has the largest overall effect on the community, as many more citizens will encounter a medical emergency than a fire emergency. By training citizens in CPR and AED use, the citizens intervene during the time needed to ensure survival during cardiac arrest, which has been proven to decrease significantly after eight minutes.
  • Car Seat Installations — One of the more recent additions to the service offering of fire departments is the instillation of car seats. This program requires specially trained car seat technicians that train on and install car seats. This is one of the most requested services, as many parents are unsure of the specifics to install and are afraid an error will cause injury to their child.

The lack of contact that the fire departments have encountered eliminated or at least significantly reduced the ability to offer these services. While on the surface, this may not appear to be a big deal, think of the loss of community first responders who could witness a cardiac arrest and use an AED and CPR to save the person.

What if a person 10 years from now does not know to crawl under the smoke and is overcome by smoke and unable to escape a fire? How about the car crash that results in a child’s injury or death because the car seat was not installed or worse yet, no car seat was installed due to the inability of the parents to understand the directions?

Unfortunately we may never know what these missed interactions will have as an impact, but one can be sure that if we continue to limit the interaction for these valuable services, the possibility of a loss of life or injury will increase each day that this class is not offered.

Dr. Randall Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. From a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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