Community Risk Reduction (CRR) is a process to identify and prioritize local risks, followed by the integrated and strategic investment of resources to reduce their occurrence and impact. This process has been gaining traction in fire departments around the world as a tool to enhance efforts to increase the safety of residents, visitors, and first responders. But what does it look like in action?
As a member of the Community Risk Reduction team at NFPA, I am fortunate to work with passionate, proactive fire professionals who have real world perspective about CRR and its merits. It is a pleasure to share their stories in this blog series.
This next interview is with Patrick Corran, La Crosse Fire Department’s first Community Risk Educator, in Wisconsin.
Chelsea: While Community Risk Assessment is the critical first step in the CRR process, many fire departments have enough experience to know they’ll need funding for CRR initiatives before their CRA is complete. How did this sequence of activities play out in La Crosse and how did your CRA support your Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant application?
Pat: Great question! I’d say these things almost occurred concurrently for us. When I was hired, one of the priority tasks I was given was to create our CRA. I was ready to give it the old college try and do it on my own, but then I found out about the NFPA CRA pilot project and thought, “well, here we go, this looks awesome.” We were fortunate enough to be selected into the pilot. This was just huge for me personally in the time saved and headaches avoided. We don’t have a dedicated GIS person in our department so not having to farm out the CRA’s GIS needs to the city’s IT department not only saved our department time and money, but also other departments’ as well.
Around this same time, discussions were occurring within department leadership that we would have to replace our old fire safety trailer. The decision was made to pursue a new fire safety trailer with grant funding. Some funding was graciously given from local partners, but the bulk of the funding was needed from the FP&S grant. We knew that to make our application as competitive as possible, and ultimately fulfill a strategic goal of acquiring this new trailer, we’d have to complete a CRA.
Formal assessment is a large component of the FP&S grant and having a data-driven, robust, and complete CRA helped make our grant more competitive. The process of gaining a deep and detailed understanding of our community through CRA helped us distill down the individual areas of concern and specific locations in our community where there was greater risk. The mapping resources available in the NFPA CRA dashboard were phenomenal in assisting us with this hyper-localization of risk and vulnerability. Being able to illustrate this in the grant application was key.
Along with the mapped incident data, the demographic and housing data available in the NFPA dashboard added important insights to what we inherently knew: that we’re a college town with lots of rentals. The tool brought it to our attention in a way we never really looked at before. The tool’s ability to compare demographic data and where certain groups of people are living against the mapped incident data was a powerful visual cue for us. When you can look at a map or chart versus reading data on a spreadsheet or a run list, it helps reinforce the topic at hand. The tool also helped to show us exactly the type of calls, the day of the week, and the hour of the day we were responding to certain parts of town. For example, the tool showed sometimes we are going to cooking fires on the weekends at 3 in the morning in the college district. This could very likely be students coming home hungry from the bars. In this sense, the dashboard definitely helped connect a lot of dots and was instrumental in the creation of our formal CRA.
In this regard, the CRA helped in more than one way; it didn’t just help in its primary intent of identifying risks within our community, but also assisted in acquiring the public education tool to help prevent those defined risks.
Chelsea: Last time we spoke, we spent some time talking about collaboration. How do CRA, collaboration, and the grant all fit together in your department?
Pat: Collaboration is an integral part of what we’re trying to do with risk reduction. The dashboard and CRA help reiterate this need for collaboration. You can’t work to reduce risks without an assessment of risk and vulnerability. And risk and vulnerability are not things only endemic to the fire service. When you look at the maps and data available in the NFPA dashboard you see how the social determinants of health parallel those found in social services, public health, the non-profit world, and other governmental agencies. The risks and vulnerabilities people who work in these arenas see every day are similar to the fire and life safety determinants found in the fire service. This was a big a-ha moment for me. The fire service can’t work to reduce many of these risks on our own. Many of these concerns and areas of improvement are just too big for one agency to go it alone. I think an understanding of this, which was revealed through assessment, helps localize the need for resources and formulate plans.
From the grant-perspective, and in our specific case, collaboration was a vitally-important element of the application. Per the Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), fire safety trailers can only be submitted via a “regional partnership” so this made us look outward and reach out to another area department without a fire safety trailer to see if they would be interested in partnering on this project. They agreed and we were off to the races. In this sense, if we didn’t collaborate we wouldn’t have even been able to start the project. We feel this partnership is going to enable us to expand the scope and reach of the public education we offer. We’ve also worked on increasing collaboration with this partnering department in other services areas, and recently signed a mutual-aid agreement with them. Emergency Response is another “E” of CRR and this agreement will help keep our residents safer when emergencies occur. It’s a win-win for both departments involved and area residents.
Chelsea: Tell us a little about the project you plan to do now that you’ve been awarded the grant. How does it tie into your CRA and CRR plans?
Pat: Our new fire and life safety trailer is a pretty exciting purchase and something we feel will greatly help in our risk reduction efforts. One of the most exciting aspects of it for me is that this new trailer is ADA and wheelchair accessible. One of the areas of deficiency with our old trailer was that it wasn’t accessible for people who use a wheelchair. This new trailer will help us close that gap and serve more of our residents.
This trailer ties in nicely with our CRA and CRR plans in that we’ll be able to use it to directly address some of our risks as outlined in our CRA. As mentioned, we’re a college town with lots of rentals, and our CRA revealed that most of our calls were in those areas. Inroads have been made to work with the local universities on cooking safety, general student fire safety, and rental information, and this trailer significantly helps with that. Our old trailer specialized in educating young children on home escape and smoke alarm safety. The CRA helped us justify the need for the new trailer to have all the bells and whistles to help engage not only our traditional audience of young children, but also better serve our older adults and finally engage our city’s sizeable young adult population that our assessment showed often exhibit risky behaviors.
We’ll also use our CRA to deploy the trailer. Since we can see demographic, building, and incident data all in one spot we can tailor our outreach and curricula depending on where we are bringing the trailer. It’s no longer a one-trick pony. The combination of our CRA and new technology gives us the ability to adapt our programming to the risks and demographics of a specific area.
To learn more about CRR initiatives in La Crosse, reach out to Pat Corran at email@example.com.
This blog series is intended to provide a peek into some commendable CRR initiatives and inspire those interested in CRR to jump in and join the momentum. Throughout the series, we’ll share brief interviews with CRR professionals about the unique efforts taking place at the local level.
This year’s FEMA FP&S grant is open for applications until February 26, 2021.