As an African proverb has it, "Those who learn, teach; those who teach, learn." I was reminded of this adage as NFPA wraps up a grant-funded seminar series that has reached 150 fire service personnel and wildfire mitigation specialists this spring. Both the instructors and staff who witnessed the enthusiasm and excitement of participants at our Assessing Wildfire Hazards in the Home Ignition Zone classes not only observed learning in action, but indeed themselves learned a lot about the challenges aced by local fire departments coping with wildland/urban interface fire threats and residents who need to know how to protect their homes.
A generous award from the DHS/FEMA Fire Prevention & Safety Grant allowed NFPA to provide the seminars in five locations at no cost to participants - except, of course, for their time. Many participants from small rural fire departments thanked us and FEMA profusely, saying that they never would have been able to attend a two-day classroom session on their own due to cost of registration, travel and lodging. We learned, though, there are still challenges for fire department staff to attend. Volunteer fire departments make up a huge proportion of the local fire service, so people have to take time away from other work in order to participate. And the nature of their work also meant we had a few folks who had to drop out or leave midway through class to attend to a fire call.
NFPA staff were on hand at each of the seminars to ensure that all went smoothly and to support the instructor. Staffers reported to me after each seminar how amazed they were at the camaraderie among firefighters and wildfire mitigation specialists, even those who'd never met each other before and who were from different states. The networking aspect of the classroom and site visit was a valued benefit which many participants enjoyed.
Our seminars involve a walk-around in the field so that participants can test their classroom knowledge from the first day of instruction at an actual home site. While we have a fall-back with a virtual walk-around that can be used in the classroom in case of severe weather or transportation failure, we learned from participants who said this hands-on activity was the best part of the class. Many commented how valuable it was to actually interact with the homeowner who was allowing them on the property, and said they wanted to put this new skill into practice immediately. It turns out many fire service folks aren't taught how to interact with residents in a pre-fire situation, and they loved learning ways to engage with their constituents.
NFPA staff and our seminar instructors had the opportunity to provide information and knowledge to the participants, to explain many other resources that NFPA has to offer, and provide a conducive learning environment to one of our most important stakeholders - the first responder. The resulting feedback from this audience has helped us learn what we can do better to support them in reducing future wildfire losses and communicating risks to residents. You can learn more about this powerful seminar and how to bring it to your area at www.nfpa.org/hiz.
Photo by Faith Berry, NFPA: Instructor Gary Marshall points out features on a home during a wildfire hazard assessment walk-around.
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