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Fire Safety Project Empowers Students to Educate Community

ESO Staff

A new approach to fire safety is not only teaching high school students the key concepts of fire prevention, but empowering them to help their fellow community members in a practical and concrete way. The story of a group of students at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon – recently documented in an article in Fire Rescue Magazine – outlined how the community organization Change 4 Change teamed up with the students to reach out to local at-risk residents. 

The city of Troutdale is located in the northeastern part of the Portland metropolitan area, and Reynolds High School is the only public high school in the city; it also happens to be the second-largest high school in Oregon. The organization Change 4 Change is very active in the community, and works to find practical ways to help students succeed in school, such as helping provide meals, simple school necessities like calculators, and even fees for school outings that are required for graduation.  

In one interaction with students, the group was polling on the importance of fire alarms and fire safety. When one student asked how an alarm could be used in their car – because that is where their family was currently living – the need for outreach to lower income community members regarding fire safety was crystalized. With a poverty rate of around 15%, Troutdale has a higher-than-average rate of citizens struggling with income. Change 4 Change was inspired to look for a way to accomplish two goals at once: give students a creative, real-world exercise to drive home key concepts of fire safety, while also positively impacting the community with educational outreach. 

The organization teamed up with the high school’s graphics arts teacher to formulate a new student project that would allow students to help design and distribute a custom fire safety education campaign. Using the Fire Safety Materials Generator created by the Vision 20/20 Project, the students would create the materials they would later distribute personally to their community. 

As part of the project, the students researched common fire safety issues in their community, prioritize and agree on their topics of focus, and then work to design and produce materials that would appeal to their audience. Additionally, they worked with a local retired public fire and life safety educator to develop a testing protocol that would help illustrate what materials were effective and having the intended effect of increasing community awareness.  

The students agreed on focusing on local lower-income apartment complexes, with the topics of fire safety and smoke alarms being the key components of the campaign. They designed and produced a flyer promoting safety in the kitchen – identifying top risk factors in kitchen fires – as well as encouraging residents to test their smoke alarms. The students then reached out to local property managers, then worked with the Grehshem Fire Department to distribute the flyers while also conducting smoke alarm inspections for residents who would allow it.  

Students and FD officers had to navigate language barriers and other similar challenges in the process, but in the end, the exercise not only accomplished the practical goal of inspecting dozens on smoke alarms, but also helped build a relationship between residents and the fire department, thanks to the outreach of the students.  

Additionally, the project gave the students more insight and awareness into the needs of their community, helped them see the work being done by non-profits, and illustrated how they can make a real impact in their community, even at a young age. Working so closely with fire safety material helped solidify the concepts of fire prevention in the minds of the students themselves, and also gave them insight into how fire departments operated. 

By utilizing a non-traditional approach to student and community education, and being open to new ways of working together, the local fire resources and educators accomplished a unique and effective project that accomplished much good while appealing to all involved on different levels. With a little creativity and new community relationships, projects like these could be a future practical way to teach students and help the community at large. 

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