Community Risk Reduction
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from Jim Crawford,
Alabama is one of the states where fire risk for esidents and fire death rate per capita are among the highest in the nation. Per the United
States census, there are nearly five million people in
the state with more than 18 percent of them living at
or below national poverty standards. In other words,
Alabama has the usual challenges regarding financial
support for fire protection—and then some.
So, what is the state doing about that? I’m confident there is far more going on than I know about,
but recent events have pointed toward renewed
efforts in the state relative to fire prevention. In 2014,
Ed Paulk, the recently retired state fire marshal,
began working on efforts to install smoke alarms,
which led to him asking for help from the Alabama
Association of Fire Chiefs.
One of the key players to step up was Chief Alan J.
Martin of Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Services. Martin
is one of those fire chiefs who believe that prevention is
an integral part of anyone’s community fire protection
plan. But, he wanted to do something to support prevention efforts in the entire state, recognizing the need.
As usual, there is more to the story than I can relate
here, but this group of fire service leaders pushed
forward after a particularly gruesome year of fire deaths.
By mid-winter of 2014, they had 40 fire fatalities and
were motivated to do something about it. In Tuscaloosa,
Martin converted a firefighter position and hired their
first fire and life safety educator. He credits her with
helping him and the state to craft unified educational
messages designed to get people to take personal responsibility for their safety and to change behaviors.
That year, Martin and other fire chiefs in Alabama
met to discuss what they could collectively do.
Together they created their first statewide campaign
named “Turn Your Attention to Fire Prevention.”
They had zero funds to work with but secured
partnerships with their Chiefs Association, Alabama
Power, Columbia Southern University, Poarch Creek
Indians, Cardiac-Solutions, and the Alabama Fire Col-
lege to begin moving forward. Among other things,
they have created a Web page to which the public may
be directed to learn much more about fire safety. In
Fire Protection Association so that they are collectively
on the same page and have confidence the messaging
is appropriate for the topic and audiences attended.
They have promoted the program and the Web site
via billboards throughout Alabama, and many fire
departments are now putting their logo on their fire
apparatus. They are emphasizing outreach efforts into
rural parts of their state and recently met with the Ala-
bama Broadcasters to see if they could incorporate safety
messages via the regular media. Those talks continue,
but it’s an indicator of how hard they are collectively try-
ing—with practically no funding—to move forward.
Recognizing that data collection and analysis is a
significant challenge, they recently met with Dr. Laura
Myers of the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the
University of Alabama to discuss the problems they are having and how they might be
overcome. They are beginning to look at a
smartphone app that would help them collect
fire data simply and pinpoint it by location.
The thing I like most about this is that they are
committed to moving forward despite the obvious
economic challenges. They have incorporated this
campaign into the duties of their executive director for
the Chiefs Association (Harlon Hutcheson), who is
another supporter of their efforts. They all have
challenging jobs of their own (which should sound
familiar with most fire chiefs across the nation), but
they haven’t let that stand in their way—something I
think deserves attention and accolades.
For more information about their efforts, contact
Chief Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org and Harlon
Hutcheson at email@example.com.
Jim Crawford, FIFireE, is project manager for Vision 20/20 and a
retired fire marshal and deputy chief of the Vancouver (WA) Fire
Department. He is a member of the NFPA technical committee on
professional qualifications for fire marshals, a former member of
the Standards Council for the NFPA, a fellow of the Institution of
Fire Engineers, a life member of the IAFC, and past president of the
International Fire Marshal’s Association. Crawford is the author of
Fire Prevention Organization and Management and is an editorial
board member of FireRescue. He has received the R. Wayne Powell
Excellence in Fire Prevention Award, the Dr. Anne Phillips award for
leadership in fire and life safety education from the Congressional
Fire Services Institute and the International Fire Service Training
Association, the “Fire Protection Person of the Year” from the Society
of Fire Protection Engineers, and the Percy Bugby Award from the
International Fire Marshal’s Association.
Alabama Fire Prevention
State chiefs work to reduce fire risk and deaths