| Program: || Community-Based Fire Protection Program, Los Angeles Fire Department, Los Angeles, CA |
| Contact(s): || Kwame Cooper, Captain, LAFD Station No. 68: (213) 735-4444 |
| Purpose: || To more effectively achieve the mission of the fire department by becoming an integral part of Los Angeles' socially and ethnically diverse communities |
In 1994, the Los Angeles City Council investigated the hiring and promotion practices of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) and found that there was a need to improve its practices with regard to racial equity. The LAFD used this opportunity to reassess its handling of racial disparities not only within the organization but in the city's communities as well. In doing so, the LAFD began to redefine the role of its emergency services stations. Instead of interacting with the surrounding community only when called in an emergency, LAFD recognized that the stations could fully integrate themselves with the surrounding communities through a host of activities and outreach efforts. In 1996 and 1997, the LAFD launched a city-wide pilot program to improve community relations based on this new approach.
The program consists of three stages: research, member training and education, and definition and implementation of projects. In the research phase, fire company members collect information about the demographics of the area as well as its institutional profile. This institutional profile includes the location, services and hours of business of government agencies, community centers and other institutions in the community. This information helps the firefighters form some initial ideas about the specific challenges and resources in the community, and informs the members about the type of new projects that might be most effective for that community. Through member training and education, firefighters learn more about the community from local leaders who speak to them about both the problems and opportunities in the community. These leaders include business owners, principals and community center directors. The training is designed to increase the firefighters' motivation for working in these communities. Once specific problems have been identified in communities, fire stations design projects tailored to the needs of the local population. Many of these projects involve emergency services, such as teaching CPR or home fire safety. Other projects serve a broader goal of breaking racial and socioeconomic barriers and bringing the community together. At Fire Station No. 68, for example, the projects included the Marvin Avenue Elementary School Fire Cadets and Educational Athletic Program. In the Fire Cadet project, firefighters from the station interacted with at-risk youth from a local school to teach them not only fire safety but respect, discipline and self-esteem. The Educational Athletic Program included 3-on-3 basketball games and group discussions, and taught youth age 10 to 16 to work together as a team despite ethnicity, age or socioeconomic differences. Stations also work with local gangs and have group mentoring projects among other community outreach efforts.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
Although the program has not been formally evaluated, the fire stations that have participated in this program report a variety of benefits, including increased requests from residents for disaster preparedness training, decreased tension between the community and the fire department, a higher quality of service and heightened sensitivity of station members toward issues affecting the community. The Community-based Fire Protection Program already has spread throughout Los Angeles, and program organizers believe it can be replicated in cities throughout the United States.