CRR in Action: 3 Questions with Lieutenant Chris Collins of Saint Albans Fire Department

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.

My first interview is with Lt. Chris Collins, a Fire Inspector and CRR champion at the Saint Albans Fire Department in West Virginia.

Karen: Lt. Collins, we have had a chance to work together on a couple of projects. It is clear you are a prevention-minded firefighter. Can you share a little bit about why prevention and risk reduction are important to you?

Chris: A few years ago, our chief asked me to take an NFPA Certified Fire Inspector class. I grudgingly accepted, but made it clear to him that I became a firefighter to put out fires and rescue people, not to inspect buildings. While studying the course and reviewing the codes, I was amazed at the thought and care that goes into making occupancies safer. As I read about the history of NFPA and studying historical fires, a specific line in the text stood out to me: “Every code represents past victims.” That was an “aha” moment for me. I realized I could save many more people with proactive preventive measures than being reactive and waiting until an emergency happens. Not long after, we attended the Remembering When™ Conference and learned more aspects about how to influence our community with proactive prevention measures for elderly residents. These experiences fueled my enthusiasm to work in this space.

Karen: As a member of the NFPA CRA Pilot Project, you’ve had a chance to use a digital dashboard customized to your community to get a good view of the local risks and capacities. How has the CRA dashboard impacted your work and the work of other members of your fire department?

Chris: The dashboard centralizes data needed to conduct our Community Risk Assessment (CRA) into one place. This saved us tons of time and frustration. The CRA process is a long-term, data driven, fluid process and the dashboard helps us to slow down and capture the short-term gains while we also plan for long-term results. For example, we were able to quickly adapt our safety programs to match our interventions to the needs in unique neighborhoods while working on our CRA in the background. This tool has also helped us write grants, work with local news outlets to bring awareness to our CRR efforts and activate the public. I am incorporating the dashboard into our recruit academy in the upcoming weeks so we can cultivate a new culture on the operations side that emphasizes the importance of CRR and its progression within our department.

Karen: On that note, we know that some fire department operations crews are supportive of CRR efforts but don’t see their own work as a critical component. How do you feel about that? What are the vital contributions line firefighters make to the CRR process in your community?

There is a culture in the fire service to poke fun whenever possible and some of the crews find some amusement at the expense of the prevention team. However, I know that most of the staff recognize the critical importance of preventative methods and sincerely promote the programs designed to help residents. As an example, I routinely get calls at all hours from crews sharing information about smoke alarm installations in homes that had none, of overcrowding in our homeless shelter, about building deficiencies, identifying at-risk geriatric patients and many other red flag issues. They do this because they see the results of these programs and feel valued when they are a part of them. Of course, we still have a few operations staff who may never value CRR. I find it most rewarding to focus more of my efforts on the recruits and young staff who will carry CRR forward in our department long after I am gone. 

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 a brief interview with a CRR professional about the unique efforts taking place at the local level.

NFPA is currently seeking new fire department to join the CRA pilot project. Want to learn more about the NFPA CRA pilot project in which Lt. Collins’ community participates? Go to nfpa.org/CRR for more information and apply before December 16, 2020. Reach out to crr@nfpa.org with questions.

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Karen Berard-Reed
Program Manager, Public Education

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