On the final day of the Responder Forum, it was time for participants to highlight key takeaways from their breakout groups and ask the difficult questions that will help fire, EMS and police organizations become more culturally aware.
Attendees from 15 diverse responder organizations worked together to identify best practices and the honest questions that need to be answered if equity is going to be achieved and awareness is going to be prioritized
Here’s a snapshot of the suggestions and considerations that the teams presented on. All proceedings from the Forum will be shared at a later date in a separate blog:
- We need to educate ourselves, internally and externally by making sure that we interact with our colleagues and our residents – and take time to get to know the people around us
- It's important that we meet people where they are. For instance, in Palo Alto, California – the fire service in that affluent city inserts notifications about risks and seasonal challenges in library books because more than 50% of their calls involve the elderly. Palo Alto is home to five libraries widely used by senior residents. Officials have also tapped into Whole Foods to get safety messages to the area’s older audience. In the Detroit area, a fire department established 501C status so that they could support their community. They fundraise and then engage with residents of all ages via Christmas programs, backpack distributions, and neighborhood events. This goodwill goes a long way when emergency responders need support from the community.
- Departments must have a defined code of ethics/conduct that makes the standard of behavior clear. This way leadership and rank and file requirements can be defined and communicated.
Here are some of the queries from the group that will unearth answers as first responders look to establish equity in their stations and establish rapport with area residents:
- Why isn’t bullying and hazing being reported? Is it because the leader will brush it off or has an environment of intimidation been adopted?
- Are you using observations from the field or current events to foster discussions in your station?
- When was the last time you showed up in your community when things went right, not just when things went wrong?
- Does everyone have a seat at the table - or just a select few?
- Are you encouraging and creating educational opportunities that will result in changing behaviors of unconscious bias?
- Do your recruitment efforts reflect the community; and does your community see emergency response as a relatable, attainable, viable career option?
- Does your department have a policy on the use and maintenance of social media, as it relates to community engagement?
Earlier in the day, the audience heard from a local firefighter who championed a community engagement strategy that is being considered in many jurisdictions throughout the country. Ben Thompson of Birmingham Fire & Rescue spoke about his city’s C.A.R.E.S (Community Assistance, Referral and Education Services) program which is taking proactive steps to serve patients who frequently call 911 for non-emergent complaints. Time spent helping the elderly may preclude departments from providing life-saving medical evaluations, treatment and transport, so Birmingham Fire & Rescue Fire partnered with social workers to develop a “Prevention through Intervention” home-visiting program for recently discharged heart-failure and COPD patients. This para-medicine initiative is a great example of an emergency response organization connecting with a certain market segment and community partners to add value in a way that is relevant today.
The final day of meetings in Alabama featured leaders at all levels rolling up their sleeves, asking difficult questions, listening to different perspectives, and redefining the perception of first responders - both internally and externally.
Preparing modern fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel to address challenges, on the front line and in the places that they work, is exactly what the NFPA Responder Forum is all about.