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Podcast

Community Risk Reduction and Fire Is Everyone's Fight®

Posted: March 17, 2022

This episode of The USFA Podcast features a discussion with the National Fire Academy's Mike Weller on community risk reduction. We also check in with the USFA's Mike Pritchard on the Fire Is Everyone's Fight initiative.

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Transcript

Welcome to The USFA Podcast, the official podcast of the U.S. Fire Administration. I'm your host, Teresa Neal. This month, we're discussing community risk reduction and USFA's Fire is Everyone's Fight.

Community risk reduction, or CRR, may sometimes seem like a new buzz word or substitution for prevention, but it is so much more. We will interview Mike Weller, training specialist at the National Fire Academy, and learn about CRR. We will also hear from Mike Pritchard, chief of USFA's Prevention and Information branch, about Fire is Everyone's Fight.

Fire is Everyone's Fight is a national initiative spearheaded by the USFA. The goal of the program is to encourage fire service professionals to work hand-in-hand with their communities to reduce fire tragedies and to change how people view fire and fire safety.

As part of the program, the USFA shares informational guides and tips on how fire service professionals can motivate their communities to take action. By engaging communities in risk reduction and prevention efforts, fire becomes everyone's fight.

So, join us as we discuss these important prevention programs at the USFA.

Hi, Mike. Thanks so much for joining us today. I have just a couple questions for you about community risk reduction. So, what is your background in community risk reduction?
My background goes back to the mid-1970s as a volunteer firefighter, and I ascended then to a chief of that department. And I'm proud to say I'm a life member there. And then it ascended further. I spent 29 years in my first professional career with the city of Hagerstown, Maryland. I was a shift firefighter for 7 years, and I spent 22 years in the fire marshal's office as the team leader for fire prevention and community risk reduction. I've been a National Fire Academy instructor for 25 years—also a course developer—and 3 1/2 years ago, I was asked to become the program manager to oversee the community risk reduction curriculum.
Great. What inspired your interest in fire prevention and community risk reduction?
I can clearly point the exact day and time when it happened. It was a residential structure fire on Thanksgiving eve, Nov. 24, 1974. My volunteer department was summoned to a residential fire. We had occupants trapped on the second floor. Back in the 1970s, we only had 2 self-contained breathing apparatus and I was following the attack crew in. I was told, as a young firefighter, not to go any further. I didn't listen and I got my first exposure to smoke. And it was like breathing sand.

And to see the trauma of that family, my friends, we all could have been killed in that fire, that really was a life changing experience for me as a young person and my colleagues, thinking, you know, there has got to be a better way to get ahead of this and stop this heresy before we have these life-threatening situations.

But what really got me that night was after we had knocked the fire down, rescued folks off the second floor, everything was turning out successfully, they brought the deceased family dog out. And to see the trauma of that family, my friends—we all could have been killed in that fire—that really was a life-changing experience for me as a young person. And my colleagues, thinking, you know, there has got to be a better way to get ahead of this and stop this heresy before we have these life-threatening situations. So, that is how it all got started.
Wow, that's pretty powerful, Mike. So, I know that you're very passionate about CRR. Can you tell us about CRR being an integrated component of emergency management?
Absolutely. When you look at preventing unwanted incidents—and if you can't prevent them, mitigating them so they happen with less magnitude—that's a very strong, protective factor that not only combats line-of-duty deaths but catastrophic disabilities of our firefighters. It can even help prevent provider suicides. You think about the service demands that we go to day in and day out. They drain our resources from the amount of equipment we have available to even our providers. Think about the toxic environments that our brothers and sisters are exposed to, and that goes from smoke to different pathogens to even sleep deprivation.

… when you look at strategic level CRR, it's designed to get ahead of the call and prevent us from responding in the first place.

And, you know, when you look at strategic-level CRR, it's designed to get ahead of the call and prevent us from responding in the first place. You know, think of utopia. The incident that you don't go to is the situation whereby you're not exposed to all these toxic environments, including post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The National Fire Academy offers a very comprehensive community risk reduction curriculum to serve a diverse audience from station-based firefighters to executive officers. Can you tell us about it?
Sure. Let me go over the course menu that we have in community risk reduction, and let's just say you've never been to the National Fire Academy. We have 2 online self-study, asynchronous courses, meaning they're online, go at your own pace. You can start and stop at any time.
And the first place to start is with a course called Introduction to Strategic CRR. That is just what it says. It teaches you the nuts and bolts—that community risk reduction is not just a name change from fire prevention. It is a well-orchestrated, organized, methodical process from identifying risk issues to identifying what interventions can be best used to prevent and mitigate risk. And it's just an excellent course that anybody in the emergency services, even allied providers, can take to really understand what constitutes a strategic process.
Its sister course is Introduction to Community Risk Assessment. And that is about a 4-hour online self-study that you learn the very basics of how to analyze a service area and determine your risk issues, prioritize them and set you up for success on how to address specific risks.
For a person's first course on the NFA campus, I suggest a 6-day introductory course called Service Area Risk Reduction. And that course empowers the student to be able to take that risk assessment and then look at some lower-hanging fruit per se. Not tackling the opioid crisis but looking at service demands in the first 2 areas that are high frequency and high risk, not only to the citizenry, but also providers. Something such as, like, ground-level falls with older adults. Something they can get their head, heart and actions around at that service area to create a plan to do something about it.
The intermediate course I would suggest is ascending from that “Service Area Risk Reduction” to a course called Demonstrating Your CRR Program's Worth. That's an advanced-level planning and evaluation course where you go through a process to plan out a CRR initiative and, at the same time, plan on how you're going to evaluate the progress of the initiative.
Our highest-level CRR course is Leadership Strategies, and that course is for an experienced practitioner in risk reduction, and it teaches them leadership strategies to lead that whole process.
We have some electives that I feel are very prudent to discuss. One is Managing Effective Fire Prevention Programs. That's for new fire marshals—somebody brand new to leading a bureau.
And a sister course to that is Community Risk Reduction: A Policy Approach. That is exclusively dedicated to the process of identifying that public policy is a very viable and important intervention option, teaches you how to write, like, a local ordinance, how to champion it through the resolution process and then implement it.
And finally, I'd like to focus on our youth firesetting prevention and intervention package. We have just done a major revision to that. We have a 6-day course that features the intervention specialist, advanced interviewing techniques, and then the program management aspects of firesetting prevention and intervention. We're also designing an online course, instructor-led, that will be about 8 weeks that mirrors that in-person experience. We also have 2-day endeavors that we can take out in the field, covering the intervention specialist and program manager.
Thank you for mentioning the youth firesetting prevention course, because we're going to have you back later in the year to discuss that course more in-depth. What is your vision for the future of community risk reduction at the local, state and national level?
Well, just what you said in the question. I mean, this takes a village. If I were king and could make things happen with a wand, I would say institutionalizing strategic risk reduction at that department level. And that goes from top to bottom, Teresa, from the fire chief down to the brand-new recruit.

It's not just a name change from fire prevention to CRR. Strategic CRR needs dedicated attention. It needs resources, such as time, money, staffing and community engagement.

And a lot of departments are really jumping on and putting these online self-study courses into their training academies, their officer development training. It's not just a name change from fire prevention to CRR. Strategic CRR needs dedicated attention. It needs resources, such as time, money, staffing and community engagement. And like I said, if I could wave a magic wand, that's what I would like to see from the local to the state to the federal level. And, you know, that segues right into the partnerships that we enjoy here at the NFA.
Right, and so what do you think USFA's role is in this process?
Where I see us going is right out of the FEMA doctrine: whole community integrated risk management. Now that's a mouthful, but you break it down and it's pretty simple. It takes a village. It takes us as the emergency services being good consultants and partners with community leaders, local government, nongovernment organizations, the corporate world, and the citizens at large—everybody working together, understanding what constitutes a strategic-level process and then executing it.
But the bottom line is it takes a village to do it successfully, and I have to say you know, in closure for my part, we are very fortunate here at NFA and USFA to have such solid partnerships with the Vision 20/20 initiative, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Association of Fire Fighters, IFSTA, NFPA, all of us. And the very first thing I did when I accepted this job 3 1/2 years ago was calling our partner groups and saying, “You know, let's even enhance our partnerships further because no one has enough resources to do everything.” So we're in a very good place, a lot of great people collaborating, and, again, it takes a village.
Thank you, Mike, and thank you for talking to us today about community risk reduction and how important it is for the fire service. And we look forward to talking to you again later in the year.
So, our next guest is Mike Pritchard. He's the chief of the Prevention and Information branch. And Mike, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself?
Yeah, sure, Teresa. I've been with the fire service for going on 40 years actually this year. Started with the El Paso Fire Department in 1982. Left there and retired in the end of 2007, and went to the Marine Corps. I spent some time there at the program office until about a year and a half ago when I was able to join the U.S. Fire Administration here with the Prevention and Information branch.
We're really happy to have you, Mike. Can you tell us a little bit about what Fire is Everyone's Fight is?
Sure, Teresa. As you know, last year, over 3,700 people died from fire in the United States, which is about 1 fire death every 2 1/2 hours, and that's just too many. And the alarming part about all of that is that the trend of annual fire deaths has actually been rising for several years. And already this year in 2022, we've seen some very tragic fires that killed a large number of people. And we continue to see tragedies like these occur on an all-too-frequent basis.
The sad thing is we know that many of these fires can be prevented, and I think that tells us that collectively and individually we need to do something about reducing fire fatalities in our nation. And I think the good news is that there is evidence that we can reduce fire deaths. If we look at other countries, if we look across Europe, if we look at places like Australia and Japan, the number of fire deaths per million population is considerably fewer than what we have in the United States.

… Fire is Everyone's Fight, at its foundation, is really a call to action. It's a way to get everyone involved in doing something to reduce fire fatalities in the United States.

So I think it is possible to reduce the number of fire fatalities in our country. And to kind of circle back to your question of explaining what Fire is Everyone's Fight is, I think the answer is Fire is Everyone's Fight, at its foundation, is really a call to action. It's a way to get everyone involved in doing something to reduce fire fatalities in the United States. To use a Navy term that I know our new fire administrator, Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, is fond of, it's an all-hands-on-deck approach.
I think Fire is Everyone's Fight can help raise awareness of the fact that fire fatalities is a real issue in the United States and that no matter who you are, whether you're a paid or volunteer firefighter, whether you're a parent or a teacher or a student or anything in between, there are things that we can all do to prevent fires and reduce fire fatalities, and we can use the Fire is Everyone's Fight effort to make that happen.
I think the U.S. Fire Administration and the community risk reduction partners that we work with have developed a lot of prevention resources that are readily available to everyone. And I know you personally spent many hours working on a lot of those products, Teresa, but we need folks to know what the resources are that are out there. And we want them to use them, and we need to get those resources to those that we can identify through research and data as being at risk for fire fatalities. And we also need spaces that we can share information with each other about what we're doing, and how it is working, and how we can do it better. So I think that's really what Fire is Everyone's Fight's all about.
And what are the goals of Fire is Everyone's Fight?
So 2 goals that I think that Fire is Everyone's Fight kind of stands out for me: First, obviously, we want to reduce fire fatalities in the United States. That's really the key. We want to reverse the trend that we currently have and get it moving in a downward direction. So how do we accomplish that goal? I think the answer is that we attack the problem. We get out there and we fight together to reduce fire fatalities and injuries in our communities and in our neighborhoods. I think Fire is Everyone's Fight touches every fire station, every school, every library, every faith-based or nongovernmental organization in our communities and neighborhoods. We need to work together on this problem locally until we can see a downward trend in fire fatalities nationally.
The second goal, and I think this goes hand-in-hand with the first, is we need to constantly improve our data collection and analysis capability based on the latest available technology and science to learn more about who's dying in fires and why, and also determine what prevention methods are working, and what we can do more with those methods. We need to be able to measure that better. We have a good start. The U.S. Fire Administration has done a lot of research in the area, and we know many things about fire fatalities, but I think we should always be trying to gain a better understanding of the data that's available and our ability to understand that data in a way that allows us to better prioritize what we can do in the prevention and community risk reduction space and to use that information to keep reducing the number of fire fatalities.

… I think the best thing that listeners can do is to take action, to get involved. Find a way to do something where you are right now. Find a way to take some action in your local community.

How can our listeners get involved with Fire is Everyone's Fight? What can they do whether they are a fire department or a person in their community?
So, I mentioned that at its core, I think Fire is Everyone's Fight is a call to action. So, I think the best thing that listeners can do is to take action, to get involved. Find a way to do something where you are right now. Find a way to take some action in your local community, and I think preferably at the neighborhood level. If you're at a fire station, find a way to get involved in that first response area to do something to reduce risk of fires in that area. If you are a parent or a teacher or a student or a caregiver, find a way to use your voice to reduce the chance of fire deaths with the folks that you interact with every day.

And if you're not sure how to start with that, check out your local fire department's website, give them a call, drop by your neighborhood fire station, or check out our website at usfa.fema.gov. The U.S. Fire Administration has lots of resources that can help you get started, or you can sign up to use the Fire is Everyone's Fight logo on materials that you can customize. You can download and print free resources that we have. You can find links to some of the community risk reduction partners that are out there that we work with, and you can take online courses in community risk reduction from the National Fire Academy and you can make a difference. I think that's what everybody needs to understand. It's gonna take all of us and I think everybody can make a difference.

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Register with Fire Is Everyone's Fight to use this registered trademark logo on your fire department's outreach materials.
What else should our listeners do, Mike?
Well, a couple things. First off, I'd encourage everybody, all the listeners, to subscribe to the podcast. I mean, this is a great venue to pass on information and a great idea that you're doing, Teresa. Also, follow us on social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. We have information that comes out just about every day. Bookmark our website. I mentioned that—www.usfa.fema.gov—and visit it often. There's lots of good stuff there and it changes regularly, so it's a great resource and it's also a way to give us feedback and let us know what you're doing. I would encourage all the listeners to tell us your story about how you're making a difference in your community. And we want Fire is Everyone's Fight to be a shared experience. We really want to hear from you.
Just a final note: I think at the end of the day, we need to remember that we're all in this together. It's going to take all of us to really make a difference and reduce fire fatalities in our nation. And so, my hope is that all our listeners will join all of us here at the U.S. Fire Administration to be part of Fire is Everyone's Fight and to help do our part to prevent fire fatalities.
Thank you, Mike. Thanks for explaining Fire is Everyone's Fight but also giving us good ideas and tips of how we can all become involved and make fire our own responsibility and to help fight it in our community.
Thank you, Teresa.

Thank you for listening to The USFA Podcast, and thank you to our guests Mike Weller and Mike Pritchard for joining us today.

Want to learn more about community prevention programs? The USFA website has all the resources you need to conduct local risk assessments and share information on fire prevention and safety. Everything discussed on today's podcast can be easily implemented in your community. Let's make fire everyone's fight.

We hope that you enjoyed learning more about some of the most important fire prevention initiatives. Don't forget to subscribe to our show on Apple or Google. We share new episodes every third Thursday of the month. You can join the conversation about fire safety by emailing your questions and sharing your stories to fema-usfapodcast@fema.dhs.gov. That's fema-usfapodcast@fema.dhs.gov.

On next month's episode, we'll be talking to Eriks Gabliks, the superintendent of the National Fire Academy. Until then, you can visit us at usfa.fema.gov for more information. Stay safe.