The Minger Foundation has been working with the Institution of Fire Engineers Vision 20/20 project on their Quick Response Team. This is a grant-funded effort to reach out to communities in the aftermath of significant, multiple-fatality incidents and help them with developing and integrating Community Risk Reduction (CRR) programs that include home fire safety visits by front-line fire fighters. So often, when a terrible tragedy has hit, the people of the community are looking for answers, ideas, on how to prevent future incidents. The QRT was formed by Vision 20/20 to provide assistance in the aftermath and help guide a community in CRR.
This is very similar to the Campus Fire Safety Community Service Project that the Minger Foundation launched several years ago in North Carolina and Kentucky under a DHS Fire Prevention and Safety Grant. This project facilitated college students working alongside fire fighters, going into homes and helping with the home fire safety visits. By doing hands-on fire prevention work, the students are not only able to contribute back to the community where they are in school, but they also are learning, first-hand, about fire safety. The Minger Foundation was asked to be a part of the QRT and provide input from its experience with this community service project.
What is CRR? It is a concept that focuses on helping make a community safer by involving front-line fire fighters in reaching out to the community through home fire safety visits. The go into the homes and talk with people about fire safety, demonstrate how they can make their home a safer place, test the smoke alarms and put in new ones if needed. So often, this task falls upon a department’s fire prevention personnel and in many departments this division is understaffed or, in the case of a small volunteer or call fire department, may not even exist, which leads to the second important component of CRR.
When it comes to fire prevention outreach, fire departments have not traditionally partnered with other organizations, except perhaps for fund raising. In today’s world, fire departments are being forced to limit what services they are offering and making hard decisions, which often result in fire prevention being cut or eliminated, which can have a serious, long-term impact on a community’s safety. CRR recognizes this and promotes the concept of building partnerships with a wide variety of organizations, especially social service agencies such as universities, Meals on Wheels, visiting nurses, the American Red Cross and other entities that are closely involved with the people in the community. By working with these agencies, it is possible to expand, significantly, the reach of a fire prevention program and help with getting into the homes where people are at the greatest risk.
Tragic fires and their aftermaths
In January, a fire claimed the lives of two University of Cincinnati Students in an off-campus house. The fire, which was caused by a space heater placed too close to bedding in a second floor bedroom, trapped the two students on the third floor where they had only one way out. In Kentucky, there have been over 30 fire deaths since the beginning of the year, most of them in small, rural communities. In both of these cases, fire officials wanted to take some action in response, and V2020 reached out to them to assist.
The Cincinnati Fire Department was interested in the CRR concept and pulled together a meeting of not only the fire department, but a wide group of people that included the university, various social service agencies and the Minger Foundation to discuss what action the community could take after the fire that claimed the lives of the two students. One significant step that was taken was that an ordinance was passed addressing the need for smoke alarms in off-campus housing, and efforts were being made to increase the enforcement of the need for a second exit from three-story, off-campus housing.
In Kentucky, State Fire Marshal William Swope assembled a meeting of over 40 representatives of his office, fire departments, social service agencies, Vision 20/20 and the Minger Foundation. These are people and organizations that were making up a task group that Swope is leading to address the terrible run of fatal fires that have happened across the state. Gail Minger was specifically invited because of her experience in Kentucky passing the Michael H. Minger Act after the death of her son, Michael, at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. Gail also served as the chair of the governor’s Task Force on Campus Safety. Corey Lewis from the Richmond Fire Department was also a part, as a representative of Vision 20/20, along with Ed Comeau, who both worked on the Campus Fire Safety Community Service Project.
“Both of these efforts are so important in using partnerships,” said Gail Minger. “By working with others in the communities, including students, we can reach more people with such vital information. No one can do it all alone, and we have seen the success from our previous projects in getting into the homes, teaching fire safety, installing smoke alarms.”
In both Cincinnati and Kentucky, the Minger Foundation’s experience in working alongside fire departments and getting students involved were invaluable in helping the discussions move forward. The Campus Fire Safety Community Service Project served as a real-world example of building a partnership and getting people (students) that aren’t normally involved in delivering fire safety working alongside fire fighters. The Foundation’s partnership with Vision 20/20 is serving as an opportunity for both organizations to learn and grow from each other’s experiences, helping to make communities safer.