Today's fire departments face an unprecedented level of change when it comes to reducing risk in their communities. Traditional approaches to Community Risk Reduction (CRR) are no longer sufficient in the face of new and evolving hazards. Fire departments are being called upon to do more with less, and many still struggle to keep up with the needs of their communities and address emerging risks.
By learning what their peers are doing, fire departments can discover more useful practices and innovative approaches to CRR. This can help them to identify new opportunities for reducing risk in their own communities and help stay ahead of shifting responsibilities.
So what kind of changes are fire organizations facing in their CRR programs?
Fire incident reporting systems
Incident reporting systems are databases used to collect and process incident data, such as fire incidents, to improve safety and inform decision-making. They provide a centralized system for departments to report incidents, enabling research and analysis to identify patterns and trends, and to support efforts to prevent similar incidents in the future.
By creating quality incident reports, incident reporting systems let you leverage your data to promote a community risk reduction program by identifying high risk areas within your response district. This information assists the fire department when applying for various grants.
A great example of this is the Ohio Fire Incident Reporting System (OFIRS). OFIRS is a database used by the State of Ohio to collect and analyze fire incident data from fire departments across the state.
The system allows fire departments to report incident information, such as the type of incident, the location, and the cause, which is then used for research and analysis to improve fire safety in the state. The data collected in OFIRS can also be used to provide information for insurance purposes and for fire department accreditation.
New emphasis on wildfire preparedness
While most would assume Western states are the only ones who need to pay much attention to wildfire risk, this is quickly changing.
After a decade of some of the hottest years on record, the percentage of US land vulnerable to wildfires has increased significantly. Wildfires burned 7.13 million acres of land in 2021. That’s over five times what it was in 1983 when the National Interagency Fire Center started collecting wildfire statistics.
In other words, more homes are at risk. Today, about 40 percent of the US (or about 120 million people) lives in wildland urban interface (WUI) areas, where homes are most vulnerable to wildfire. In response, more departments nationally are incorporating a WUI focus into their CRR programs.
Areas that never had to worry about wildfires now face growing risk — a risk that is increasingly starting earlier in the year and lasting longer.
In response, more fire departments are taking steps to prepare their communities for wildfires, such as:
Home hardening practices
Home hardening involves taking steps such as creating defensible space around homes, using fire-resistant building materials, and ensuring that homes have proper ventilation to reduce the risk of embers igniting the structure. More departments are turning to tools like inspection software to more easily help community members with these changes.
Homes built with hardening standards are 40% less likely to be destroyed and 32% less likely to be damaged, according to CAL FIRE.
Fuel management includes taking steps such as clearing brush and dead trees from around homes and communities, and thinning overgrown forests to reduce the risk of a wildfire spreading rapidly. These fuel management practices can also help to slow the spread of wildfire and make it easier for firefighters to contain the fire.
Updating school safety drills
Unfortunately, many schools now need to be ready for anything. Fire departments are becoming increasingly involved in school safety drills, in part because many more states and municipalities have started to mandate more rigorous safety preparedness, including how to respond to an active shooter.
Active shooter drills, which are designed to prepare students, teachers, and staff for an active shooter situation, have become a crucial component of school safety plans across the country. These drills handle everything from teaching sheltering practices, to how to conduct and evacuate students, to how to reunite them with parents afterward.
Fire departments are now working closely with local schools and law enforcement agencies to plan, train, and evaluate these drills.
Similarly, fire departments are increasingly taking part in helping schools prepare for fires, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
More targeted community outreach
Increasingly, fire departments are using data and analysis to identify specific communities and populations that are at higher risk of fire incidents and other emergencies. They are then tailoring their outreach efforts to these groups, using culturally appropriate messaging and materials to ensure that the information is effectively communicated (and listened to).
Part of this targeted outreach involves making use of new technologies to contact and engage communities, such as:
- Communication tools: from making better use of email and text messaging, to using other digital platforms to share information and resources with their communities, fire departments can reach a wider audience and to spread important information more quickly and efficiently.
- Reporting and analysis: with more data available to decide who to talk to (and how to talk to them), fire departments are more able to actively engage communities in their risk reduction efforts.
By involving community members, leveraging technology, and improving programs based on data, fire departments foster trust and ownership among citizens, ultimately leading to a more effective community risk reduction strategy as new needs arise.