Why our Public Education awards help make this the most wonderful time of the year
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2010
Every January, just after New Year's, packages start arriving on my desk. At first, two or three appear. Gradually, though, the pace picks up. By early February, they come in stacks, and urgent phone calls follow to make sure the packages have arrived. A check of my e-mail account shows an inbox peppered with attachments and messages tagged with exclamation points.
It’s fun being the most popular person in the Public Education Division, even if it’s only for a couple of months and has nothing to do with me. As I open each application for the Rolf H. Jensen Memorial Public Education Grant and the Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award, I’m proud that I play a role in programs that recognize fire departments and educators who work to make their communities safer.
The $5,000 Jensen Grant goes to a U.S. fire department, volunteer or career, that will use the funding to launch or maintain a community-wide fire and life safety program or campaign. A commemorative plaque is also part of the award.
The Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award recognizes those who demonstrate excellence and innovation in using NFPA campaigns, programs, and curricula. The winner is recognized during the opening general session of NFPA’s Conference & Expo® and receives a $1,000 honorarium. The recipient’s fire department is given a $1,000 donation toward public education activities.
Although only one award and one grant are given annually, fire departments all over the country benefit, as innovative and effective campaigns serve to inspire others.
The 2009 winner of the Jensen Grant, the Montgomery County, Maryland, Fire and Rescue Service, targeted a problem fire departments across the country face: a disproportionate number of fire fatalities involving older adults. In one recent period, Montgomery County experienced 15 fatalities, of which 13 were over 65. In response, the fire and rescue service collaborated with community agencies and organizations that provide in-home services to people 65 and older to develop the Fire Safety Awareness Safety Program. The program trains direct service providers—health services and housing code enforcers, for example—on fire safety hazards and risks so that they can educate residents about these issues. The fire and rescue service has also conducted classroom training using NFPA educational materials.
"These days, resources are getting very slim," says Division Chief Mike Love. "The grant helped obtain materials that otherwise we may not have been able to afford."
The recipient of the 2009 Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award, Dayna Hilton, a firefighter/fire safety educator for Johnson County in Clarksville, Arkansas, took on the fire safety educator role in 2002, moving a fledgling effort to an award-winning program that reaches millions. Hilton, a volunteer firefighter, initiated a fire safety awareness parade and Fire Prevention Week billboard contest. She and her dalmatian, Sparkles, have spread the NFPA fire safety message on both PBS Kids Sprout On Demand and its website, and FOX and Friends.
Hilton says the award from NFPA has helped to raise a general awareness of fire safety.
"It was truly an honor to be recognized by Congressman John Boozman on the floor of Congress after receiving the award," she says. "I was equally honored when Clarksville Mayor Billy Helms recognized the award at a city council meeting."
Campaigns such as Hilton’s and the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s not only inspire others in their own efforts, but build interest in these awards and grant programs. Each year, the volume of my snail mail and e-mail grows. And there’s always room for more applications.
Lisa Braxton is project manager for NFPA's Public Education Division.