AUTHOR: James Monahan

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In late January, Reginald D. Freeman, the new fire chief for the city of Oakland, California spoke about transformational leadership during the opening session of the NFPA Leadership for Emergency Responders online conference. In his “Everyone’s a Leader, Driving Change, Every Day” presentation, the former fire chief and emergency management director for Hartford, Connecticut spoke about his ascension in the fire service including stints as the international fire chief for Lockheed Martin, and as a civilian fire chief in Iraq for the U.S. Department of Defense. In May of 2021, Freeman headed west to the Bay area to lead a team of more than 600 responsible for responding to nearly 60,000 calls per year. Prior to his arrival, Oakland Fire Department (OFD) had struggled with issues that are not uncommon in the fire service including an autocratic, top-down style of leadership and an overall lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The department’s hiring and promotion procedures were also plagued and the lack of innovation at OFD led to a high-turnover rate amongst both employees and command staff. In his short time in Oakland, Chief Freeman has been able to draw on transformational leadership strategies to help secure a 10-year capital improvement plan and sponsored training courses. The highly involved fire leader has also spent much of the last year ensuring that his team and the community are in the loop. Freeman is a proactive communicator known for connecting with others via memos, meetings, and social media. Freeman knows exactly what responsibilities fall where and emphasizes the importance of having a healthy workplace culture so that talented professionals reach their full potential, and so all members feel their voices are being heard. The new Oakland fire chief says, “Everyone has value, it is up to good leaders to motivate and engage.” If you missed the FREE fire service leadership conference in January, you can still access Freeman’s transformational leadership session – as well as many others – on demand until next January. Register here to watch sessions, at your leisure.
Christmas tree decorating

Christmas Trees Present Potential Fire Hazards; Enjoy Them with Care and Caution

For many households, Christmas trees are as much a staple of the holiday season as eggnog on grocery store shelves. But for all the joy they bring, it’s important to remember that Christmas trees are large combustible items that present potential fire hazards in the home. Fire departments responded to an annual average of 160 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees between 2014 and 2018, resulting in $10 million in direct property damage. Fires involving fresh Christmas trees tend to be more common than those involving artificial ones. Fresh Christmas trees dry out over time, making them more flammable the longer they’re in the home. As this video shows, a dried-out Christmas tree will burn much more quickly than a well-watered tree: Our Christmas tree safety tip sheet offers tips and recommendations for safely enjoying Christmas trees this season. Following are some of the key reminders: For a fresh tree, cut 2” from the base of the trunk before placing it in the stand. Add water to the tree stand daily to keep them well hydrated. Trees should be placed at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights. Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, such as a door or window. Ensure that decorative lights are in good working order and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, NFPA’s new Christmas tree report is now available, providing the latest statistics on Christmas tree fires in U.S. homes, including these key findings (which reflect annual averages between 2014 and 2018):  Christmas tree fires are more common during the hours when people are awake, peaking between 6 p.m. and midnight. More than two of every five home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in almost one-third (thirty-one percent) of Christmas tree fires. In more than one-fifth (22 percent) of Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree. For additional information and resources on how to safely deck the halls this holiday season that can be shared online, through social media and/or as printouts, visit our winter holidays page.

Increase in Home Fires Around the Holidays Reminds Us of the Importance of Safe Holiday Practices and Home Fire Sprinklers

Home fronts full of lights and cozying up on the couch are romantic images for the holidays, but it’s important to remind our communities of the dangers we see around this time. We know that fires caused by cooking and decorations increase during the latter half of the year, and in our Holiday Heads-Up series, we focus on a different topic related to fire safety, providing resources and reminders to keep your community safe. From heaters to holiday decorations, electrical and lighting equipment that we may take for granted presents a larger risk during this festive season. Each year, electrical and lighting equipment is one of the top causes for home fires and is involved in almost half (45 percent) of Christmas tree fires. This Winter Holiday Safety tip sheet is an easy way to review important safety practices with your community. In the event of an emergency, vital fire protection technology like smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers can help protect residents and first responders if a fire does break out. Research shows that home fires where home fire sprinklers were present had an 85 percent lower casualty rate than home fires without an automatic extinguishing system (AES). Use this safety sheet to share facts about home fire sprinklers that may be uninformed. In addition to their invaluable safety benefits, sprinklers can also open the door to insurance and economic perks, which Jason Benn, Assistant Chief of North Perth Fire Department, highlights while discussing his personal experience installing sprinklers in his own home. A fire can become deadly in two minutes. Home fire sprinklers begin suppressing the flames as soon as the temperature activates them, giving occupants more time to escape and making the scene safer for firefighters once they arrive. The NFPA Winter Holidays page has more resources that help you educate your community on how to approach the festivities with care. To find out more about the advantages of home fire sprinklers and how to get them in your community, visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

Despite New Circumstances Caused by COVID19 the Key to Holiday Fire Safety is Consistent Action

The holiday season is well on its way, meaning more at-home festivities and cooking due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than holiday cheer, this time of year also brings an increase in home structure fires, with Thanksgiving and Christmas consistently being the peak days for cooking fires. Also, nearly three times as many fires caused by candles are reported on Christmas than the daily average. New statistics highlight the need for added vigilance around cooking, candle use, Christmas trees, and other risks common to holiday festivities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen news accounts and anecdotal information about higher rates of home fires as more people spend time at home. Use this Cooking Safety tip sheet to easily review kitchen safety. Keep these important notes in mind to help keep everyone safe during this time of family, food, and giving thanks: Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant. Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both. Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect. Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged. Keep decorations away from windows and doors. Keep children and pets away from lit candles. Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet. Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop. We have seen immense creativity in how people celebrate while remaining safe, and these basic, preventative measures will help lower the risk of fire as you deck the halls. But in the event of an emergency, ensure that all heaters and electrical equipment are in good condition before use, and that all smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers are in good, working order. For resources on Christmas tree safety and more, visit the NFPA Winter Holidays page.
Reverse drive by for FPW

Creative Approaches to Fire Safety Education can Help Communities Stay Safe During the Holidays—a Busy Time for Home Fires

The holiday season is underway, and COVID-19 continues to demand ingenuity in how communities share important safety messages. Across the nation, fire departments and public educators have met the challenge head-on, using a variety of new methods to further education and outreach efforts. Fire Prevention Week 2020 may be behind us, but fire hazards have no holiday break. These next few months are a peak time for home fires, so below we will highlight a few lessons we learned from professionals in the field, so that safety remains a priority during the holidays. Alsip Fire Department typically holds an open house during Fire Prevention Week to disseminate learning materials, but Chief Tom Styczynski and his team came up with a “Fire Prevention Week Reverse Drive-By” to accommodate the current circumstances. Residents could drive into the parking lot to receive a goodie bag full of Fire Prevention Week resources from members of the department. Springfield Fire Department adapted to the demands of COVID-19 with a virtual approach. In a normal year, they visit the 35 public elementary schools in the area, reaching over 11,000 students and teachers with educational messages. This year, the city created a number of fire and life safety animated videos for elementary students that were made to be shared in the classroom or at home. Through the videos, local firefighters taught lessons on home hazards, cooking safety, and other topics to ensure a year of important safety messaging wouldn’t be lost due to the constraints of a virtual environment. Duxbury Fire Department also took advantage of technology to continue outreach and education efforts despite these unusual times. Jessica Laaper produced an interactive video tour for the department, giving them a greater ability to engage the community and teach them about what goes on inside. Much like Google Maps street view, virtual visitors could explore the department and click on equipment, learning all about the tools the department uses to keep them safe. We also saw an FPW poster contest hosted by Nassau Bay Volunteer Fire Department, live virtual cooking safety lessons taught by the Green Bay Metro Fire Department, and more. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg in the kinds of creativity that educators and first responders are harnessing to inform community members about the ongoing need for fire safety, even when the pandemic has limited or put many usual events on pause. The cold weather months mean an increase in cooking and using heating equipment, which recent research tells us are the leading causes of home structure fires. Public educators and fire departments can explore some of the tactics explored above and other out-of-the-box thinking to remind your community that fire safety is a year-round commitment. Download this winter holiday safety tip sheet for ways to celebrate safely. The Public Education page offers even more resources on how to effectively share safety messages in new ways.
Sprinkler demostration

New Hampshire Holiday Demonstration Highlights Safety Concerns Around Artificial Christmas Trees

With Thanksgiving behind us, gifts and decorations for the December holidays are the next subject on people’s minds. We consistently see increases in home fires during this time of year, so in our Holiday Heads-Up series, we will focus on a different topic of seasonal fire safety each week. Today we turn to Christmas trees, a popular tradition in many households. Artificial Christmas trees appeal for their convenience, but they bring their own fire risk concerns. A demonstration in New Hampshire with the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) highlighted this risk in a side-by-side house fire demonstration, emphasizing the need for caution during the holidays. Flashover—when everything ignites and no one can survive—can happen in as little as two minutes. In the demonstration, two mock living rooms caught fire from a heating element, sending the identical fake tree, decorations, couch, and presents aflame. While Christmas tree fires are uncommon, they can be very serious. A natural tree is three times more likely to cause a fire than an artificial one, but as we can see in the demonstration, that risk is not to be underestimated. In the event of a fire, working smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers will increase occupants’ chances of escape and start controlling the flames before first responders arrive. It is best to install sprinklers during initial home construction, but retrofitting is also possible, with the cost of sprinklers in new homes adding around $1.35 per square foot. Use this safety sheet to inform members of your community about the benefits of home fire sprinklers. Remember these tips when decorating with trees for the holidays: Only use artificial trees certified by a testing organization Maintain a distance of at least three feet between heating elements and Christmas trees Keep electrical decorations and lights in good condition Make sure your tree doesn’t block any exits Never use candles to decorate a tree Review this Winter Holiday Safety tip sheet for more recommendations on how to decorate safely this holiday season. To learn more about home fire sprinklers and how to get them in your community, visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative.
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