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Community engagement and fire prevention
Transcript of Community engagement and fire prevention
20 Years ago...
In the line of fire: Value for money in the Fire Service
Concept of community fire safety is in its infancy
Safe as Houses, 1997
Community Fire Safety Taskforce recommended making “Community Fire Safety
primary focus of the fire service, putting fire and casualty reduction at the centre of both policy and activity”
In 1995 the Audit Commission recommended a shift from reactive to proactive work
And the incidence of dwelling fire was increasing
In the mean time
2 years ago
Rates of dwelling fire have fallen steadily for much of the period
Evidence of a marked inequality in the distribution of dwelling fires presented at this conference
Chris Hastie, Coventry University
A bit of history
Focus in on one small area
High rate of accidental dwelling fire, many of the demographic characteristics associated with high fire rates
Why look at community engagement?
Is engagement working with all communities?
There is evidence that some communities avoid engaging with the state. Poor engagement prevents communicating fire safety messages. Are there things about the way agencies approach engagement that mean it works better in some contexts than in others?
How do we learn from the communities we serve?
Communities know why they have more fires. Good engagement can help services to learn from them
Methods as findings
In many ways the issues I faced as a researcher are the same issues that public agencies face
I had to change and adapt, and that process itself is a valuable finding
Qualitative, interpretive approach
Inductive (no particular hypothesis)
‘Deep hanging out’ over 9 months
Focused on hearing stories from communities
Supplemented by interviews and focus groups with professionals
Refine to key themes
Directly on audio (ie without transcription)
By coded topic
Listen and listen again
Part of the analytical process
Making sense of messiness
Out of sight, out of mind
Although people often had positive views of response work when brought to mind, prevention work is barely known.
Fire is not a priority for people
FRS is ‘tucked away’ and rarely thought about
Part of something bigger
Associated with wider state
Uniform brings negative associations for some, particularly with the Police
“You see, they’re in a position of authority. It’s always come across. I know they’re a fireman but it’s the uniform, the engine, the blue lights.”
“They [the police] come, the PCSOs in particular, come and just sit in our coffee shop… so people know their faces, and so people will approach them because they’re familiar. I wouldn’t know one fire officer from another. I wouldn’t know any really… they’re definitely off everybody’s radar.”
Attitudes to the Fire Service
Reflections on my position and influence
Thoughts on themes and concepts
People avoid public services
Many people living in the communities considered avoid engaging with public services
Feel judged by services, by outsiders for ‘living on an estate’, by neighbours for needing help or talking to public services
Fear of consequences
Will information be passed to Social Services, the Benefits Agency, Immigration Enforcement, the Police?
Not a priority
Fires are relatively rare. The risk isn’t considered important by people with more pressing issues
The police don’t turn up when called. The landlord didn’t fix the leaky tap. The promised redevelopment never happened. No-one listens
Unaware of the service
People often don’t know that help is available from public services
Services work on their own terms
One size does not fit all
“The community” is actually many different communities, each best reached in different ways
Services often try to engage on their terms, not on the terms of those they want to reach
Barriers to engagement
“One of the biggest problems we find when you’re on an estate is how many people think they’re superior to you. The people who are in the office up Bell Green… they talk down to you, don’t they?”
“You just lose all hope.”
“So there’s that fear, in the first instance. ‘Fire Service contacted me’. First thing is they will ask themselves that question ‘what have I done wrong?’ Because that’s not how it is done in their countries”
“Fires? ’cause as I say like, I’ve been here thirty years and I can only remember two fires. Three fires—but that’s this side… Thirty years, that’s what I mean, there’s not been many fires that I can say I’ve seen.”
We need to look at the wider picture
A more general understanding of community engagement in the challenging context of disadvantaged areas is therefore important to understanding community engagement for the Fire Service
“get out of your office and go where people are”
The failure of the interview
People were generally happy to have a quick chat with me in passing, but rarely willing to put time aside for a long, taped conversation.
I had to reconsider the way I gathered data to accommodate this
Context is crucial
In a diverse society, complex, flexible approaches to fire prevention are needed. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. An array of different approaches must be tried
Is the Home Fire Safety Check the best option?
Sometimes, and perhaps sometimes not.
Like interviews, HFSC are a big commitment in time. Less intensive options may be less ideal on an individual basis, but in some contexts may reach more people
Is the FRS the ideal organisation to deliver?
The FRS is trusted
The evidence from this study, and elsewhere, suggests this is not always the case. In some contexts other organisations, or individuals, may be better placed to gain access to communities
The FRS has the technical knowledge
It may be easier to teach others about fire prevention than to change the perceptions of the FRS held in marginalised communities
The FRS has latent capacity
Latent capacity is the result of a response focused resource configuration. It may be better to use it for additional response focused activities
Implications for fire prevention