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Fire prevention, fire preparedness and fire response – what’s the difference?

April 22, 2011

I saw an interesting question the other day about the difference between fire prevention, fire preparedness and fire response.

Fire prevention involves stopping ignitions before they occur.  Fire investigators know there are three elements of cause:  the ignition source, the first fuel ignited and the act that brought them together.  My house is full of ignition sources and it’s built of fuel.  Yet I managed not to burn my house down yesterday.  That’s because I was careful enough not to bring any ignition sources in contact with the fuels.  That’s the trick with fire prevention, keeping ignition sources and fuels separated so that the house doesn’t catch fire.

That’s a challenging assignment.  In America we focus on individual rights and the right to engage in sometimes risky behaviors (like smoking for instance) is important to our culture.  The trick in fire prevention is getting people to act on information they already know (like remembering that gasoline is flammable) and change behaviors to preclude ignitions.

Even the best preventative measures may not protect you from someone else’s careless actions.  That’s where fire preparedness comes in.  Fire preparedness involves taking steps to mitigate the effects of a fire, should one occur.  You see us talking about that often too.  Some preparedness involves planning for an incident and practicing prior to the incident.  Home exit drills, earthquake drills and school fire drills are examples of this sort of preparedness planning.  Another preparedness activity is the creation and installation of systems to deal with a fire once it starts.  Smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, fire sprinkler systems, emergency preparedness kits, and survivable space around homes are examples of this type of preparedness.

Fire response is when the fire department actually rolls out trucks and troops to battle the fire, rescue people and conserve property.  It takes a lot of specialized training and equipment to maintain a force that can quickly, efficiently and safely respond to fires.

Of the three options, fire prevention is the least expensive and the most efficient.  If prevention is embraced by everyone and kept up, it can be very effective.  If prevention is not embraced across the board, then we have to invest more in the other two disciplines of preparedness and response.

Of the three, response is the riskiest and most expensive.  Dollar for dollar, response is also the least efficient option.

Citizens and homeowners can easily engage in the first two disciplines of fire prevention and fire preparedness.  In fact, no one can accomplish these tasks as effectively as individual homeowners.

Fire response is much more dangerous.  Mitigating the hazards associated with fire response requires lots of training and specialized equipment.  That makes it more difficult for individual homeowners and this is where fire departments have greater impact.

The goal of our fire prevention effort is to persuade individual homeowners to pursue actions that preclude any fires starting.  Or, failing that, homeowners get prepared for when an emergency strikes.  These two activities (which fire departments can’t do for you) will go a long way toward deciding how much money is spent and how many fires your home and family will experience.

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