According to the US Fire Administration, Arkansas has one of the highest numbers of fire-related deaths in the US, with most of those being young children and the elderly. Children playing with fire accounted for 4% of residential fires and deaths in the state. The Centers for Disease Control report that Johnson County is between the 75th and 90th national percentile in fire- and burn-related deaths.
One group determined to change this is Johnson County RFD #1’s Fire Safety Team in Clarksville, Arkansas. The team comprised of the department’s firefighters and Fire Corps (University of the Ozarks Phi Beta Lambda students) has made a commitment to reduce fire deaths, civilian injuries and economic losses by increasing fire safety awareness by creating either a behavioral or environmental change to the public, not only within the district, but also throughout the county, state, and nation. Through innovative fire safety programming, there’s been a decrease in residential property loss each year.
Activities ranging from installing smoke alarms in low-income families’ and the elderly homes, to helping host a free safety fair to the entire community, RFD #1’s Fire Safety Team works year-round to reach as many people as possible, especially those most at risk, by conducting a variety of activities. If those in the community cannot make it to the activities, they make it a point to go to them. Since its inception, fire safety activities have reached over 42,000 people.
The Fire Safety Team has been in existence since September 2003 and continues to grow each year. In 2003, the department participated in 24 programs and activities, 40 in 2004 and 115 in 2005. RFD #1 is constantly working to improve its program and is following a five-year strategic plan for fire safety improving programming, not only locally and statewide, but nationally.
In November 2003, RFD #1 was notified by a parent of a six-year-old child that a presentation made to her son save his life. The child knew how to stop, drop and roll in an incident as a result of participating in the department's fire safety programming. Furthermore, the mother stated that she “felt that had he not learned that behavior, he surely would have suffered severe injuries.” The child was accidentally touched with a burning marshmallow by another child, and she stated he immediately knew what to do, thus suffering only minor burns. His parent stated that the child said he “remembered what to do if my clothes caught on fire, the firefighters taught me.”
Through the involvement of the RFD #1’s Fire Corps and Firefighters, the department has seen a 287% increase in fire safety programming over the previous year. Innovative programming, such as the “Reading with Sparkles,” and the “Don’t Burn It, Recycle It” programs are just a few of the fire safety programs the team presents. The “Reading with Sparkles” program reinforces fire safety messages taught during Fire Prevention Week. Members take Sparkles, the department’s Dalmatian mascot to Clarksville Primary School each week and read fire safety books. RFD #1 Fire Safety Team is committed to keeping everyone fire safe.