Community Risk Reduction (CRR) Week is a grass-roots effort led by an informal group of fire safety professionals from across the nation to help promote the awareness of CRR within the fire service. This week, we are featuring some of the fire and life safety professionals within the State of Maryland that are making CRR a priority in the communities they serve. Today we spoke with Teresa Crisman, Prince George's County Fire and EMS Department Community Risk Reduction Manager, to discuss the importance of CRR.
1.How did your career get started in the fire service?
I started as a career civilian with the department on April 22, 2001.
Before that, I had started my volunteer service at the age of 13, in March 1981 with the Greenbelt Volunteer Fire Department & Rescue Squad, Inc. and Ladies Auxiliary. I'm also a Life Member of the Branchville Volunteer Fire Department & Ladies Auxiliary.
2. Where and when was your first introduction to CRR education?
I was 13 when I officially joined the Fire Department, but I grew up in it so I was always around the fire house. My experience with CRR was when I was asked to take part in the fire prevention efforts of the department. I liked to draw and support the programs so I started from there. I felt at ease being able to talk to people about having the means to escape a fire. It was a natural fit. I really wanted to learn about the ambulance and other things but I was drawn to the CRR opportunities. I did ride the ambulance when I turned 16, but each time when something came up to the department and they needed someone to talk to the residents I always stepped up. I have always felt that a simple conversation with someone can help them understand why they need to do these prevention measures. Having working smoke and CO alarms, planning home fire drills and actually doing them, and getting to find those hidden hazards that can be corrected before something bad happens is paramount.
3. What event or experience in your life encouraged you down the CRR career path?
When I was growing up, the fire house was a second home and a second family. Having my dad serving as the fire chief and my mother very involved in the auxiliary and other programs for the department allowed me to help out with events. The county fire department's public affairs office would ask my parents if I could help out at events during the summer and weekends. Nancy Estepp would ask often if I wanted to assist as she knew I was very interested in fire prevention. I would be able to help assist in many events and that let me experience more than just the Greenbelt area. I would be able to help reach even more people.
4. What do you feel is one of the most important CRR messages and/or goals you would like to see progress in?
Sprinklers and smoke alarms are the next level of advancement. What has been a very common form of equipment today is still misunderstood. We try very hard to educate everyone on why it’s important to have these devices in our homes. But we still are faced with opposition from many fronts. Why do builders still hate that they have to include these life saving devices in their buildings? Why do they always challenge us? In regards to CRR for the state, we have a mission for everyone to understand the importance of these items in the home. We also need the fire service to make education a priority. Too many times have I heard someone say the wrong thing or imply that we don’t really need these devices. We have to educate everyone on their importance.
5. What are some challenges those working in CRR face, particularly ones specific to the audience you are trying to reach?
Some of the biggest challenges that I have seen here is the population with second language barriers. For many years, the most common second language in the area was Spanish. Now I am faced conveying information in many more languages and customs I am not familiar with. For this population, they are coming here and not understanding the importance of smoke and CO alarms. They came from a region that did not relay how important those devices are.
6. How have you developed your own unique messaging when it comes to community outreach?
Immigrants to this country bring their customs and beliefs. They are not familiar with all that we do here, so having the ability to reach those in need is very important. But I feel that being able to convey to them the importance of having some kind of fire prevention and life safety plan in place is of the utmost importance. Working collaboratively with other partners in the county, we are able to provide non-English speakers with information they can understand. We have worked interpreters to craft materials in numerous languages to help with messaging.
7. How do people working in CRR fields handle conflicting messages from multiple sources to the public?
We have to look at every message and find the one that best fits and we also have to look at the messages that are out there and help correct errors. It is vital that the correct message is always conveyed.
8. What does the future of community outreach look like?
The future is the next page of the next day. We are now seeing more styles of building constructions that will meet the future for the green building scene, it’s great that people want to go this route but they cannot forget that fire prevention, fire protection, and codes are meant to keep us safe and not try and change how those things are done. The newer wood construction is becoming more popular. With the demand to meet this standard, and with all of the newer technology added, we cannot forget that fire and life safety is the most important. I look forward to the advances that technology will bring us but I just want to make sure that they do not try and dismantle the means and how they work. Smoke and CO Alarms have come a long way, sprinklers too. I would really like to see how technological advancements can be enhance and support the future of CRR.
To learn more about the Prince George's County Fire and EMS Department visit https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/222/FireEmergency-Medical-Services.