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Safety steps and strategies for community engagement

March 6, 2024

Delving into the challenges of fire safety education and the need for resourceful community engagement with Stan Barnes, NFPA State Representative for Public Education

Stan Barnes is a dedicated fire safety advocate and educator. His career, spanning almost three decades, reflects a deep-seated commitment to safeguarding communities against the dangers of fire. Through engaging educational programs and strategic community partnerships, Barnes has effectively spread life-saving messages across Michigan. As the NFPA State Representative for Public Education, his initiatives are empowering individuals and families with the knowledge and tools necessary for fire prevention and safety.

Barnes shares a deeply personal connection to his career in fire safety and public education, a path he embarked upon nearly three decades ago. “Fire was the natural path,” he says, underscoring a journey motivated by loss, heroism, and a profound desire to prevent such tragedies in others’ lives.

A moment Barnes’ career that solidified his passion for fire and life safety was rescue operation at Piedmont Concrete, where Greg Messenger, a 37-year-old contractor, was trapped in a storage tower. The rescue operation proved fraught with challenges, leading to injuries among the rescuing firefighters, including Barnes himself. Despite the successful rescue, Messenger passed away seven days later, but the efforts of the firefighters allowed him a final farewell with his family. “We received the Medal of Valor, but more importantly, we didn’t leave Greg inside to die,” Barnes reflects.

Steps to safety

In his roles as NFPA State Representative for Public Education, Barnes position equips him with the resources and platform to enhance fire safety awareness across various communities. “As State Rep, I am able to have access to information from NFPA to pass on Educational Messaging to Departments and organizations,” he explains. This role enables him to conduct presentations throughout the community, promoting vital fire safety knowledge.

He highlights the NFPA’s Steps to Safety program, specifically designed to address the needs of elderly individuals throughout the state. The program highlights the critical importance of having a fire escape plan that takes into account the unique challenges faced by older adults. By planning how to leave each room and ensuring that escape routes are clear and accessible, the program aims to prepare individuals for a swift and safe evacuation in case of a fire.  

Through his work, Barnes is informing and educating whilst also fostering a sense of community partnership and collective responsibility towards fire safety, demonstrating the impact of targeted educational initiatives in enhancing the well-being and security of communities.

Earyl engagement

Barnes has been instrumental in developing and delivering innovative educational programs aimed at fire safety. One such initiative, ‘The Fall Assembly Program’, saw him and a team of firefighters visiting elementary schools to deliver life-saving messages through engaging and creative presentations. Utilising popular culture icons from Star Wars, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Avengers franchise, these programs captured the imagination of young students while imparting crucial safety information.

The success of these programs was not just in their delivery but in their outcome: “As a result of that program, we had confirmed life saves. That proved education works in the Fire Service,” Barnes tells, highlighting the tangible impact of these initiatives on community safety.

Community partnership

Barnes underscores the critical importance of community partnerships in enhancing fire safety and overall community well-being. He believes that these alliances are vital: “Partnerships are extremely important. By means of them, we extend our reach and increase our abilities and resources.”

For safety professionals aiming to forge such impactful connections, Barnes offers a clear strategy: “Grab the data to emphasize the need. Identify your possible community partnerships. Make a brief contact, prepare your presentation, and set an appointment to present.” This methodical approach, he says, will ensure that the importance of fire safety is communicated effectively, laying a strong foundation for meaningful collaborations.

Challenges

In an ideal world, fire departments would have the unlimited resources needed to engage effectively with the community. The reality are the numerous hurdles often faced in disseminating fire safety education, including logistical challenges that can impede such critical work.

“Staffing and Run Volume always is our main concern,” Barnes points out, noting the difficulty in allocating personnel for fire safety presentations amidst their primary responsibilities. The advent of Covid-19 added another layer of complexity, restricting the ability to engage with the community in traditional face-to-face settings.

However, the success of their educational initiatives can largely be attributed to the robust support from the fire department’s leadership. “Having a supportive and Fire Prevention oriented administration is key,” Barnes emphasizes. He credits Fire Chief Jon Unruh, Deputy Chief Jason Olzsewski, and Fire Marshal Jason Baloga for their instrumental roles in ensuring the continuation of these vital programs.

Barnes envisions a future where community partnerships in fire safety take on a more proactive role. “Wouldn’t it be great to have our partners also do similar presentations to share the messages?” he muses, suggesting a model where knowledge sharing becomes a communal responsibility. He sees the potential for these partnerships to spread vital safety messages and also to attract and secure additional funding, enhancing their capability to make a difference.

However, Barnes also acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead, specifically: “Limited Personnel, Resources, and Funding.” These constraints pose significant hurdles to the expansion and sustainability of fire safety education and community partnerships. Despite these challenges, his optimism about the role of collaborative efforts in promoting safety remains undiminished, reflecting a belief in the power of community to effect change and protect lives.

Get involved

When asked about a crucial aspect of fire and life safety he wishes more people understood, Barnes’s response highlights a fundamental yet often overlooked truth: “That fire injury and death are preventable.”  

He offers invaluable advice for individuals eager to dive into community education and public speaking within the realm of fire safety. Emphasizing the importance of a personal mission, he advises: “It’s crucial to start with a strong personal motivation – your ‘WHY’. Research and gather data to support your message, and transform your passion into a compelling narrative. Practice your presentation skills and be prepared to adapt your message for different audiences.”

Barned adds: “Fire safety is not just about responding to emergencies; it’s about preventing them from occurring in the first place. This means being aware of potential hazards, having working smoke alarms, planning escape routes, and regularly practicing fire drills. I’d ask everyone to consider this: if you knew a fire was going to happen at a loved one’s home, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to prevent it? That sense of urgency and care is what we need to instil in every community member.”

This article was originally published in the February 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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