Elysia Spencer takes her work as Spokane Valley Fire Department’s Community Risk Reduction (CRR) Specialist seriously. From an early age, she placed high value on the importance of serving others. Though new to her role at SVFD, Spencer strives to honor her father, a retired local firefighter, as well as the legacy of her grandfather, who was killed in the line of duty battling a fire in downtown Spokane in 1980.
“It is deeply personal to me, this opportunity to make a difference in the health and safety of our community members, which can make it a whole lot safer for our firefighters, too,” Spencer explained. “To me it makes sense to look for ways to help everyone be safer: to get out of a house fire safely, to keep older citizens living in their homes longer by preventing falls, as well as preventing injuries to firefighters by encouraging citizens to take simple steps to prevent fire.”
Since arriving at SVFD in July 2016, Spencer has led the Department’s new “Project RISK” Initiative. Project RISK – Residential. Inspection. Smoke Alarms. Knowledge. – aims to reduce fire and medical emergencies in our community through proactive, targeted outreach and education. Department fire and medical emergency call data is analyzed to identify the most frequent causes of fire and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) calls. The Department then focuses educational efforts and resources to address these identified ‘community risks’.
An initial focus of Project RISK has been smoke alarms and fire safety knowledge. Outreach to our community happens in various ways:
- Home Fire Safety Visits – as requested by residents, SVFD conducts free visits to install smoke alarms (as needed) and share important home fire safety information.
- Smoke Alarm Installation Kits – all SVFD fire engines now have smoke alarm installation kits on board, thanks to Spencer implementing an idea piloted by a young SVFD Firefighter and his Captain. These kits make it easy for crews to check for and install working smoke alarms in homes after responding to an emergency call.
- Home Fire Safety Visit “Blitz” Campaigns – during 2017, SVFD led efforts to plan and implement two “blitzes” targeting specific neighborhoods based on data and identified community risk with the American Red Cross.
During 2017, a total of 568 Home Fire Safety Visits were performed and 1,715 smoke alarms were installed, thanks to the combined efforts of firefighters, Spencer and her fellow Prevention Division staff, and volunteers. A total of 93 smoke alarm batteries, 41 Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms and 6 special smoke alarms – bed shakers and flashing strobe lights – for deaf and hard of hearing citizens were also installed in 2017.
Looking ahead to 2018, Spencer will continue to apply her passion for fire and life safety to her work as she sets her sights on several priorities:
- Home Fire Safety Visit “Blitz” Campaign – using funding received from a federal grant Spencer successfully secured to purchase smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, another home fire safety campaign is planned for April 2018. Target neighborhoods will be determined using Department data and demographics.
- Fall Prevention in Older Adults – SVFD is partnering with Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels to conduct outreach and education to target populations based on risk factors. Little things like removing rugs or placement of furniture can help ensure older adults continue living safely in their own homes.
- Enhancements to SVFD School Programs – For many years, SVFD has worked with all Spokane Valley school districts to provide fire safety lessons to children in Grade 2 (Junior Fire Marshal) and Grade 3 (Fire Safety House). Spencer plans to review the curriculum and make contemporary updates such as teaching children to call 911 from a cell phone.
- Diverse Populations – not everyone in our service area speaks English. In order to reach these diverse communities, Spencer intends to translate and distribute fire and life safety educational materials to Russian, Marshallese and Spanish-speaking populations in our service area.
- Community Risk Reduction Coalition – the work of this joint effort with Spokane Fire Department and various community organizations and stakeholder groups to collaboratively identify and address community risks will ramp up in 2018. The group is focused on reducing falls by older adults and is planning a regional education campaign.
Community Risk Reduction (CRR) is a term used by the National Fire Prevention Association and is becoming more prevalent in the fire service. It is a critical shift in thinking for fire departments. CRR means that fire departments exist not only to respond to emergencies, but also to prevent emergencies and reduce the impact of those incidents.
“It is understandable why people tend to be complacent about fire and injury prevention in their homes,” Spencer said. “After a busy day, people want to come home and relax, distress. However, when we let our guard down is precisely when accidents happen; accidents that often result in tragic injury or death.”
Spencer emphasized that the goal of SVFD’s Community Risk Reduction program is to empower people with the information and knowledge to make themselves safer.
“People need to realize that their decision to act – or not- will have an impact on others. Installing and maintaining smoke alarms in your home and practicing a fire escape plan is not only for your own safety, but for the safety of your family, your neighbors, your community and the firefighters coming to help you in the middle of the night. Nowadays, most people won’t drive without wearing a seatbelt; ultimately, we would like the public to take the same matter-of-fact attitude toward reducing their fire and life safety risks.”