Building CRR Acceptance
In some departments, the culture within the fire service can be a significant barrier to a CRR program and its implementation. This is not intended as criticism of the fire service. The focus of many fire departments is on emergency operations, and firefighter training typically does not include CRR. Firefighter training programs have often failed to associate “prevention” programs and activities with improving firefighter safety.
Up until the early 1970s, little attention was directed towards firefighter safety. The inherent dangers of firefighting were simply accepted as unavoidable occupational hazards. Serious efforts to address firefighter safety began during the 1970s and accelerated rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s.
Organizational Responsibility for CRR
Cultural changes within an organization do not occur quickly. Emergency response will always be a part of the job, and fire department personnel must recognize that CRR does not threaten that aspect of the job. There are some basic steps to consider that can begin the process of building acceptance of community risk reduction within fire and emergency services:
- Develop a personal vision for community risk reduction and a safer community.
- Convince others that rates of death and injury are unacceptable, and operating with a higher regard for personal and civilian safety would not compromise the mission of controlling fires and saving lives.
- Discuss the benefits of the CRR approach.
- Promote a change in assumptions, attitudes and beliefs at all levels (fire chief, company officers, training staff, supervisors, etc.) that occur overtime through a behavior change model:
- Changes in attitudes and beliefs gradually leads to a change in values.
- Attitude changes must be shared within the organization, so that personal safety and preventing or mitigating incidents is given equal weight to being effective in controlling fires, providing emergency medical care, and saving lives.
- Ultimately, this can promote changes in behavior and acceptance throughout the organization.
- Establish supportive leadership that is able to communicate the vision and strategy for change, training, and a strong leadership team.
- Once value is established by convincing firefighters at every level that change is both desirable and necessary, involve them in identifying solutions to get their buy-in.
- Obtain program approval internally. This includes legal counsel, elected officials, and other departments that may comprise municipal and private organizations.
- Address and remove obstacles to the vision and strategies for change.
- Start at a level that is feasible and realistic. Create short-term successes, and build on what works to reduce resistance and develop sustainability. In other words, it may be better to take “baby steps” to accomplish the necessary cultural change.
There are indications that CRR is becoming more prevalent within the fire service. In a 2015 survey of 374 public education managers in U.S. fire departments, about 51% of the respondents indicated they had some type of CRR program, while only 10% were doing systematic home safety visits (National Survey of Public Fire Education Managers—Attitudes Toward Prevention Materials and Home Safety Visits; Vision 20/20, July 2015).
The process of changing the culture should have begun long before the implementation of your CRR program. As mentioned, changes in attitude may take a long time, and you should not become discouraged if you do not see an immediate change. What is important is that fire departments begin to shift their thinking and start on the path, because expectations for local government—the fire service—included, have already begun to change.