Update: Response from Fremont Fire Department

Two weeks ago I posted my letter to the Fremont Fire Department, and much to their credit, they are responsive to my complaint. The next day, I did receive the following email response:

Dear Ms. Shen,

Thank you for contacting me to express your displeasure with your recent experiences involving our Department and the Empire Montessori Preschool. I was saddened to learn of your disappointment because our relationship with the community we serve is of paramount importance to us. Please be assured that we will look into this matter fully and immediately. To that end, I spoke to Deputy Chief Jim Martin who heads our Operations Division first thing this morning and tasked him with reviewing the matter. The Fremont Fire Department is committed to strong community partnerships and fire safety education and we take that role very serious. Please allow Chief Martin a few days to conduct his review and in the meantime, if you would like to speak with him directly please feel free to contact him at:

Deputy Chief Jim Martin
510-494-4202
jmartin@fremont.gov

Again, thank you for taking the time to communicate with us.

Sincerely,

Geoff LaTendresse, Fire Chief
Fremont Fire Department

A few days later, I did receive a call from Deputy Jim Martin who explained to me their policy. Deputy Martin did acknowledge that the new fire captain should have suited up and felt that there was a miscommunication when coordinating with the preschool director. However, he was quite firm about the fire department policy about not presenting to children under age 5 due to lack of resources.

Deputy Martin indicated that while the Fremont Fire Department would not do presentation for children under age of 5, parents can take their children individually to fire stations. When I asked if the fire fighter might suit up and show the kids his gear, Deputy Martin said he is not sure. I let him know that I am keen on teaching kids fire safety myself but the one thing that I cannot do as a parent is to suit up in fire gear and show kids not to be scared of that in a fire. To that Deputy Martin said that he might try to pass along the idea of an open house event in the future.

In response to our conversation, I sent the following final email to sum up our conversation:

Hello Deputy Chief Jim Martin,

Thank you for having taken the time and effort to have an in-depth conversation today over the phone. I appreciated your thoroughness in investigating the incident that I complained about in my previous letter, and I also greatly appreciated the good conversation we had. I learned a good deal about the realities that the Fremont Fire Department faces. It was enlightening and I am glad I had the opportunity to learn as a Fremont citizen.Thank you also for sharing with me about the Learn Not to Burn program — I looked it up and the website had some good information worthy of sharing!

While I understand that there is no education department within Fremont Fire Department, I would like to share a few statistics that I have learned about in children age 0-5 and fire safety:

According to FEMA studies released in 2011, children ages 0-5 have the highest fire death rates among children of all ages and have the highest relative risk of dying in a fire when compared to older children. Children account for 15% of all fire deaths; children younger than 5 made up 52% of fire deaths among those 16 and younger. Fire and burns were the third-leading cause of accidental deaths, after transportation accidents and drowning, for children younger than 15 in 2007.

“U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) encourages parents to teach children at an early age about the dangers of fireplay in an effort to prevent child injuries, fire deaths and firesetting behavior in the future.”
Children ages 0-14 and under make up 15% of all fire deaths.1
Fifty-four percent of all child fire deaths occur to those under age 5.1 These children are usually unable to escape from a fire independently.
http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/parents/curious.shtm

Researchers found that deaths among the youngest of children increased 2% from 2004 to 2007…
What’s most distressing, says Mark Shriver, chairman of the National Commission on Children and Disaster, is that “we’re trending upward. … It’s not getting better.”
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-02-14-kidsinfire14_ST_N.htm

Little kids can’t get out by themselves — they need to be rescued. This is why it is important for children to learn to trust and not be afraid of first responders at an early age. This is why I thought that having the children see the full fire suit would help them learn not to be afraid of a guy in a mask with an axe when they need to be rescued — that is something that I as a parent cannot do on my own.

http://www.wctv.tv/news/headlines/116195569.html

I am not sure what process the department goes through in consideration of the internal policies, but I hope that education can become a greater priority in the department’s interaction with the community public. At the very least, I hope that Fremont Fire Department can work on providing more information and education to the public creatively that will target those under age of 5. Fire Station Open Houses, information and lessons provided via the website, and education targeting parents and teachers of young children can all contribute. Mr. Martin has indicated that experience has taught the department that teaching kids under age 5 is not effective compared to teaching children 5 and older. It is true that children under age of 5 has shorter attention span and greater need of repetition, and if the Fire Department does not have the priority and the resources to provide the education directly, then parents and teachers need to be given the tools as much as possible. I noticed in the Events section there is a Personal Emergency Preparedness class in October — perhaps similar events for children can be made available?

I am looking forward to getting more information on the text of the internal policy on public relations activities as it applies to children and any available educational resources to disseminate to other parents of preschoolers that I know in Fremont. October, Fire Prevention Month, will be right around the corner!

Sincerely,

Irene Shen

Deputy Jim Martin sent the following response:

Irene,

It was good speaking to you yesterday as well. As the Chief mentioned, we are committed to strong community relationships and public education. I have included a couple of Fire Safety links that you can share that may be helpful for you to share with all ages. Input like yours is appreciated, and evaluation of our current internal guideline on Public Relations Activities (PRA’s) will surely be reviewed. We are always striving to look at and consider new ideas and improved methods, while remaining within our budgetary constraints. With that being said, I have already had a conversation with our Assistant Fire Marshall on the issues you raised. Additionally, the Fire Prevention Division has several very good educational Fire Safety videos that can be loaned to the public. Please let me know if you have an interest in obtaining any of these. The Asst. Fire Marshall had suggested the NFPA website below, and also wanted me to relay that we are already considering educational improvements to our website.

City Website:
http://www.fremont.gov/index.aspx?NID=100

National Fire Protection Association:
http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/safety-tip-sheets

Here is an excerpt of guidelines we have in place for Fire Station Tours.

“In addition to showing the kids the different apparatus that we use, try to insert a few safety
tips as well. Put one child in the seat and buckle them in. Talk about seat belt safety and
emphasize that even firefighters always wear their seatbelts.

When showing them our turnout gear, use the helmet as a prop to discuss the subject of
bicycle helmets and how important they are. However, do not put the helmet on a child’s
head as their neck may not be strong enough to support the added weight of a helmet
without injury.

Put on your turnout gear, including the S.C.B.A. and mask. This is especially important with
younger children, as the clothing and sounds may frighten them. Explain that this is what
we’ll look and sound like if we ever come to rescue them in a fire, and that they shouldn’t
be scared.”

Our guidelines for PRA’s currently are used by the Administrative Assistant who handles the PRA’s, and does not live within a policy. It is used as a guideline so that PRA’s are handled with consistency, and are effectively communicated to the field personnel that then are assigned and responsible for the presentation. Some of the guidelines followed that I relayed in our conversation are:

1. No Children under Kindergarten Age
2. 2-3 weeks advance notice
3. No more than 30 children
4. No Cost
5. Receptionist may schedule up to 3 activities per month per shift and station

I hope that this information is helpful, and can ultimately be a benefit to the children and citizens here in Fremont. Thank you again for your input.

Sincerely,

Jim

Jim Martin
Deputy Fire Chief, Operations
Fremont Fire Department

In sum, I did learn a lot about the resources or lack thereof in my new city, and a whole lot about safety. I know that as a parent I took the availability of fire safety presentations for children by fire departments for granted, and that it is increasingly unavailable in many municipalities. As parents, we must take proactive steps to teach children what to do in an emergency, much as we take proactive steps to buy life insurance, write a living will, or even install a car seat.

While I am disappointed that Fremont Fire Department could not do more for our most at risk children, I am glad that they have at least taken the time to hear me out. Hopefully, other parents in Fremont might find this something worth voicing their opinions about as well.

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