TELL IT LIKE IT IS
Call it WHAT it is, correctly!
Part 1 of 2
I typically pay close attention to news reports about fires and other emergencies. In most cases, the reports are accurate, but sometimes there are inaccuracies that could have been easily avoided. What newscasters and print journalists know about our business is largely based on what we tell them. This is why it is so important WE get it RIGHT when we describe events to the media. They listen, but they may not always learn. We must be their teacher. Public fire safety education training teaches us that we, the fire safety educators, must relay only positive behaviors to the general public. We need to re-enlist the media, broadcast and print, as allies in this campaign.
Through my career and after, I have attended numerous classes, workshops and seminars. None were more valuable to me than those instructed by Dr. Burton Clark and Mr. Chuck Burkell. Their emphasis to the student of public fire safety education was and is: "be positive, be informative, be correct, always".
For approximately 15 years of my fire service career, I was the designated public information officer (PIO) for the Lancaster City Bureau of Fire in Pennsylvania. In that capacity I was frequently called upon to teach fire safety classes in local schools, hospitals, other places of public assembly and to gatherings of civic groups. This assignment was both personally and professionally challenging and rewarding. I became aware of how uninformed the public was on the subject of fire safety. The local NBC affiliate, WGAL-TV 8, took up my challenge to produce and broadcast local and regional public service announcements (PSAs) on fire safety. Some were even designed specifically for the hearing impaired. While I was a cameo in the lower right corner of the screen, in the middle of the screen was a sign language interpreter signing my fire safety message. These valuable tools have all but disappeared from television and radio. Lets work together to reinstate fire safety PSAs on all forms of broadcast media.
Here are but a few examples of why accuracy matters:
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless flammable toxic gas. It is the product of incomplete combustion of organic (carbon containing) materials. It is always present in smoke. It is the leading cause of fire related deaths of civilians and fire fighters. It causes injury and death when a furnace is improperly venting during the winter heating season. People die just by breathing. Blood absorbs CO molecules 200 times faster than oxygen (O2) molecules are absorbed. CO 'poisoning' is tissue deprived of O2 for so long it no longer functions. An indication of CO poisoning is referred to as cyanosis. It is a bluish discoloration of the skin that indicates O2 deprivation. The concentration of O2 in the Earth's atmosphere is normally 20.5%. It's when O2 levels drop below 19% that the problems begin. Public fire safety educators must keep on message about checking furnaces BEFORE the heating season begins. CO in unventilated combustion gasses from furnaces and gas water heaters account for many accidental, and completely preventable, deaths every year. Education about the hazards of CO through public fire safety education saves lives! Reminding folks to check their furnace and gas water heaters though public service announcements saves lives!
(OSHA fact sheet/on line at www.osha.gov).
Let’s talk SPRINKLERS. Every day I receive e-mail reports of sprinklers saving lives and protecting property (VIKING 210; @ www.sprinklersaves.com). I have discovered one of the misconceptions (and a big one) of sprinklers; when one goes off they all go off, NOT true. Only the heat-activated head (s) over the fire goes off. Most fires are controlled by one/two heads at 10-15 gallons per minute (GPM). New technology offers ON-OFF HEADS, the activated head(s) shut off when the temperature decreases (stopping the water flow). The movies and Hollywood have not helped us promote the “Sprinkler Concept”. In my opinion, “You may get wet, you won’t get dead”.
Smoke alarms are available in ionization, photo cell, audible, visual, vibrating and verbal types (talking to you) depending on the individual’s needs. They maybe hard-wired, systematic, battery (10 year) powered, monitored by an approved central station, or all the above.
In most instances, we pull into a gasoline station to fill our vehicle with gasoline. Gasoline is a flammable vaporizing liquid that ignites at approximately 536 degrees F with a spark-ignition source, its flash point is approximately -45 degrees F.
Some homes as well as vehicles utilize GAS (natural/propane) as a fuel. These gasses vaporize in ambient air. Natural gas is lighter-than-air and will rise and accumulate at high areas as well as dispersing into the atmosphere. Liquefied Petroleum Gas vapors are heavier than air, and will accumulate at low levels. L.P. is a by-product of the oil refining process and has basic properties that are found in gasoline. Both classification must be respected particularly when used as a domestic fuel in structures.
Print news often uses the term “fireman” (7 letters) in the headlines. A media source informed me that the reason, FIREFIGHTERS (12 letters) has too many letters and takes up space. “No requisite intent”.
The reports of fires and the causes often are stated, “suspicious or arson” when in actuality the document used to “investigate the Origin and Cause” of fires (NFPA 921) states there are four classifications of fires: (NFPA is the National Fire Protection Association)
1-Accidental 2-Natural 3-Incendiary 4-Undetermined
Remember, no origin, no cause, no cause no case. In order to determine the cause of a fire, first, the origin must be located, the credible ignition source determined, and then first material that was ignited by that ignition source.
Arson is a determination for the jury to decide at trial (a crime). Suspicious is a mental determination that is based on the imagination or apprehension of the existence of something wrong based only on slight or no evidence without definitive proof (Black’s Law Dictionary 7th Edition). A fire that is ignited intentionally is done so by a person knowing that it is wrong (incendiary). An accidental fire, is the result of a careless act (cigarette/ candle/faulty equipment). A natural cause, could be lightning. If a cause cannot be immediately determined, the call (should be) undetermined at this time.
All Fire apparatus have specific names, Engine Company/ carries water, hose, various tools, assorted equipment and Firefighters. Ladder company/truck company/tower ladder/aerial ladder, typically has a complement of Firefighters trained in ventilation (opening-up the roof), rescue occupants and deliver large volume water delivery (1000 GPM+) onto burning material from elevated heights.. A Hazardous Materials Unit, (Haz-Mat) is a company of trained Firefighters mitigating the emergency, such as leaks, spills, crashes, etc.
Firefighters “turn-out-gear”, fire resistant material, helmet, hood, coat with vapor barrier, gloves, trousers, boots, and “AIR-PACK” containing compressed purified/filtered air and an audible alarm (to inform the wearer the air is running low, and to get out).
These are but a few suggestions to the Public Information Officer (PIO) or anyone speaking to the public and the media, “Tell it like it is”, but most important “Call it what it is”!
Ed Knight is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI/CFII) and a fire instructor; a retired municipal assistant fire marshal, forensic investigator having investigated several