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In today’s complicated world, that surrounds COVID-19 isolation requirements, the fire service in this country has a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach out and educate our citizens, especially school-age children, on risk reduction measures that can help reduce the loss of lives. With more people staying home and, on the Internet, fire departments need to step up their social media outlets to provide quality, interactive life safety education. You have a captured audience wanting information, besides the news reports that are somewhat stating the same thing over and over. Be proactive and strike while the iron is hot to get your message out.

Parents are having to entertain their children and teach them while schools are closed so use this time to provide them with your risk reduction messages that can enhance what parents are trying to teach in the absence of full-time classroom sessions. We understand too well that this younger generation of school-age children lives on the Internet, so develop educational games, puzzles, and fun activities that impart a life-safety message that they can remember for a lifetime. In the early days of television Smokey Bear was a larger than life figure that provided a great message, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” that we all remember today. Do the same thing for the young in your community through creative uses of social media platforms with ideas like sleep with your doors closed (Close Before You Doze), know your escape plan and any area pertinent information that can be used to keep this younger generation safe.

Let your imagination run wild and embrace risk reduction through social media interactions. Use the young members of your departments who have grown up on social media and have a passion for it to lead the way. Brainstorm ideas for risk reduction, life-safety programs and messages and let the younger members of your department run with this idea, and you may be surprised at what they develop.. Then unleash this new way of educating your community and stand back and see what happens. But remember to track the progress and feedback you get so you can modify the message and the delivery platform when needed.

The fire service culture must change from a reactive one to one that is proactive using social media and today’s new communications forums in community risk reduction. We can no longer stand by and wait for calls to incidents that we know we could have helped avoid. We need to lead from the front and that starts at the top. The fire chiefs and their executive staffs must embrace the talents of this millennium generation of emergency responders and their desire to be part of today’s fire service and their need to shape their and the fire service’s future.

Retired Fire Chief Patrick Kelly started his career in 1974 in Baltimore County, Maryland, and served as fire chief in New York, Florida, Arizona and Cherry Hill, New Jersey Chief Kelly is a professor at Columbia Southern University in the Fire Science Program and is the past-chairman of the IAFC’s EFO Section. Kelly is a graduate of the EFO program, holds a CFO designation and is a graduate of Loyola University with an MBA.

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