NASFM Youth Fire Prevention Workshops:
Opening the Window
"If you’re breathing the same air you were 5 years ago, open a window."
--Youth Fire Prevention workshop participant
Fireproof Children developed the Youth Fire Prevention workshops for the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) Fire Research and Education Foundation, funded through a FEMA grant, and delivered them in the ten FEMA regions. From beginning to end, the format of the Youth Fire Prevention workshops supported the goal of building networks, identifying solutions and taking action.
1. Networking began before each workshop. Recruitment in each state reached out to all disciplines that make up local coalitions. We sought out participation from not only fire marshals, educators and investigators, but social workers, probation officers, juvenile justice coordinators, and mental health professionals.
One reason for recruiting people from many disciplines was to integrate prevention and intervention. After all, both prevent fires—first fires or subsequent fires. Preventing the first fire has a substantially greater impact on reducing child fires than does a predominant focus on intervention after a fire.
Another reason was that, rather than just talking about the need to share data and resources, we started the process right there in the room. Participants worked together in this workshop—just like they need to do in their communities and regions. Networks formed right there during the workshop, taking advantage of the opportunity and momentum. Sometimes it was hard to get them to come back from their small group work to rejoin the full workshop!
2. Everyone did their own thinking first. For the morning breakout session, everyone counted off and broke up to work in random groups of five. Each person first thought about and wrote down his or her own challenges and successes. This forced everyone to ‘bring your own brain’ to the process, instead of just letting the most influential members of their home team tell them what they should consider a challenge or success.
Then these small groups pooled their responses and identified their top three successes and challenges. By doing this with people from other communities, participants learned their problems are not unique. They also learned that some communities had been able to solve those problems, and heard how they did it. It was energizing and encouraging to learn that the problem could be solved.
“The knowledge in the room was unbelievable,” said one participant. Every challenge was connected to a solution. While not every solution will work in every community, hearing about other communities’ solutions created enthusiasm and on-the-spot problem solving.
3. Each ‘home team’ then got together and created their own action plans, based on their local situation, local data, and local resources. For many, this was a major perception shift. While learning about successes in other communities can help stimulate ideas, developing the best plan for a community isn’t about going out and finding “the best” prevention program somewhere else.
There is no universal ‘best practice’ for every community. Plans developed in another state, or even in another community in the same state, may not work in a different community. Instead of being told what to do, participants got instruction in how to evaluate other programs and identify what would work best for them, based on their own problems, data, and resources.
By the time they met to create their own plans, everyone had looked at the problems from three levels—individually, in small groups, and with the larger group. They’d learned from each other that a strategy can be found to address every problem identified, and they were eager to tackle them!
4. Each team’s plan fit on one page—and could be articulated to the larger group in two minutes or less. Each team determined what they wanted to accomplish (both a 2-year goal and up to four short-term goals); how they would get there (actions); what they had to work with (resources), by when (timeframe).
What they took away
At the end of the day, every individual and every team walked out with a plan to meet their goals. The participants also took away from the sessions an energy and an eagerness to share the content and proceedings with their colleagues back in their home states and communities. In a 3-month follow-up survey of participants in the first workshops, 64% of those responding had already implemented, or were about to implement, the action plan they developed at the workshop.
They also walked out knowing that they may not need a formal coalition to succeed. Coalitions imply a separate, formal administrative structure with regular meetings. These can work very well in some communities, but others may be just as effective with a simple Network of informal relationships among people easily accessed with a phone call, email, or online groups. Many had already taken the first steps toward that network.
NASFM Research & Education Foundation will be exploring ways to obtain additional funding to continue these workshops.