LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Where to Begin
Whether you are an inspector, firefighter, instructor or fire and life safety educator, you know the important role the fire chief plays in setting priorities and deciding what services your department provides. As you begin a home safety visit program, make sure you have the support needed. This includes the buy-in of the fire chief and other administrative leaders, along with elected officials (e.g., mayor, city or town manager, city council, etc.). If the program is important to them, then their support and enthusiasm will impact the ranks, from the department heads to the firefighters, the volunteers, and the department’s support staff.
One way to sustain top-level support is to involve the chief and other leaders early on. Present a solid case for investing in Community Risk Reduction efforts in general and to support the strategy of home safety visits as a proven public safety approach. Invite them to participate in media opportunities when you announce and promote the home visits. Some fire departments have included elected officials in the first home safety visit, increasing media interest and rewarding their support with favorable publicity. For help in “selling prevention” to members of your department and other opinion leaders in your community, read the section on creating demand for prevention in Vision 20/20’s Advocacy Toolkit.
The ability to measure and report on the success and challenges of the program will be important to your chief and other officials. Comprehensive evaluation will strengthen your program and is a vital element to securing continued funding. Therefore, clearly set your goals in the beginning by determining what you want to accomplish and how you will gauge the results. You may choose to make home visits to a small number of high-risk homes and publicize them, with the hope of getting more internal and external support to expand the program. Or visit all of the high-risk homes in the community, perhaps over a year, with a goal of visiting all homes in the community, perhaps over five years. You will want to set goals about attracting other community organizations to assist in these efforts, and goals for getting line firefighters more involved in prevention. Determine what you want to accomplish and how you will gauge the results. The section on Evaluation discusses how. A great planning resource to review is NFPA’s Public Fire Education Planning for Urban Communities: A Five-Step Process Guide to Success.
Note – the planning cycle is continuous and modified as monitoring and evaluation indicate changes that should be made.