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PF&R In The News: Lessons from an Award-Winning Fire Prevention Program


Portland Fire & Rescue - IN THE NEWS

FireRescue 1 Website

October 13, 2010

By: Don Porth

Lessons from an Award-Winning Fire Prevention Program

Taking safety education on the road is time consuming and logistically difficult; a learning center brings in important target groups

Portland, OR -- Fire and life safety education from the fire department is not a new thing. It's been going on in one form or another for a long time. A few years back, Portland, Ore., Fire & Rescue developed a plan to take safety education to a new level. The result would be a facility playing host to thousands of visitors per year while delivering safety education, history, and a lot of fun.

The story began in the mid-1990s with an idea for an "education destination." Taking safety education on the road is a time consuming process and logistically difficult. What if a high end exhibit and teaching facility could be created with visitors coming to its door? From this premise the safety learning center was born.

Fast forward 10 years. Portland Fire & Rescue was in the midst of upgrading all 30 of their fire stations to modern seismic and living standards. Old Station 9, in service since 1912, could not be upgraded to today's standards. A new building would have to be built for the Belmont community of Portland. Old Station 9 was offered up as a location for the innovative "Safety Learning Center & Fire Museum."

The firehouse would immediately be dubbed the "Historic Belmont Firehouse." First and foremost, this would reduce confusion with the new Station 9 located nearby. But it also gave the building an identity and an attachment to the Belmont community, which would go on to serve the facility well with public and neighborhood support.

Many old firehouses exist in Portland and other cities. What would come to distinguish the Historic Belmont Firehouse would be the programming of the content. Portland Fire & Rescue is rich with historic photos and artifacts dating back to the inception of the fire department on August 1, 1853. Most of the items had been in storage or randomly displayed over the decades. They would now become part of a plan to decorate the century-old firehouse and to breathe new life into it.

Strategy for teaching safety
But the historic tale of Portland Fire & Rescue would only be a part of the plan. The more compelling element was the safety learning center. In Portland, like most communities across the United States, fire represents only three percent of its response profile. Over 75 percent of Portland's emergency calls are for medical-related events. Most of these are responses are to "preventable" events. This means that some form of primary prevention program might keep citizens from suffering an injury, death, fire, or other life-altering trauma. The safety learning center would become the delivery point for educational programs to help people live safely.

The combination of the fire museum and safety learning center would prove to be a winner. Citizens, particularly those with children, are curious to learn more about the lives of firefighters. Many an adult guest with child in tow will comment on the high interest their child has in firefighters and/or fire engines. Once in the building and the experience begins, they realize that the tools and equipment used by firefighters for the past 150 years are all driven by the unsafe behaviors typically exhibited by people just like themselves. This is where the "discussion" begins. The discussion is the opportunity for the education staff of the Safety Learning Center to talk with guests about strategies to keep their home and family safe. Whether smoke alarms, stairway gates, gun locks, bike helmets, or seat belts, expertise provided by the professional education staff at the Safety Learning Center assists guests in gaining the knowledge (and safety devices sold at the firehouse store) needed to maintain a safe home and lifestyle.

The appeal of the facility extends beyond families though. Classrooms from preschools, public and private schools, and other groups catering to the education of youth account for thousands of visitors per year. It has also proven a very popular destination for senior citizens, primarily from retirement and senior living facilities. This difficult to reach demographic is a growing life safety concern for emergency responders across the country. The Safety Learning Center provides a fun, historic, and educational resource for these older citizens.

Quality staff is key
The facility can even make money. In cooperation with the Jeff Morris Fire & Life Safety Foundation (, events such as kids birthday parties, meetings, dinner parties, and weddings have been held at the Historic Belmont Firehouse, each paying a fee to enjoy the experience. Catering staff work from the functional firehouse kitchen to provide a unique experience, all accompanied by a firehouse staff member to share historic anecdotes and safety education in a fun and interesting way.

While Safety Learning Center & Fire Museum in the Historic Belmont Firehouse has evolved into an amazing "education destination," it should not be overlooked that the quality of the staff is key to the success. This is not a job that can be done by the casual firefighter. Advanced training and knowledge of teaching, classroom management, and injury prevention are a must. In fact, quality educators could be successful in any building. In contrast, the most exciting facility, such as the Safety Learning Center, can fail without proper staffing. Like all technical specialties in the fire service, properly trained personnel are far more valuable than any tool or apparatus.

This project continues to grow and evolve in its service to the public. The goal is to provide people with knowledge so they can avoid injury and death due to preventable causes, thus freeing up the time firefighters would otherwise spend on emergency response. That's good for the entire fire service. More importantly, it's good for the community being served.


  Portland Fire & Rescue 

  We Respond: Always Ready, Always There

  October 14, 2010



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