Ten years ago this month a deadly house fire in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle killed four children and a young woman – all were members of Seattle’s Ethiopian and Eritrean communities. This tragic fire was the deadliest fire in Seattle in over 30 years and greatly impacted members of the Seattle Fire Department and the wider community. This tragedy was especially difficult for Seattle’s East African communities.
Shortly after the fire, Seattle Fire Department members met with community leaders to begin gathering ideas on how to reach more East African communities with fire safety information. The Community Fire Safety Advocate (CFSA) program developed as a response to this tragic day. This program became the fire department’s primary outreach and educational program targeting East African community members within weeks of this devastating fire.
CFSA Outreach and Education
The CFSA program was modeled after community-based popular education programs such as Public Health promotoras and community health worker programs which utilize people from the communities trying to be reached as the primary outreach workers. The original cohort of four CFSAs were community leaders who spoke Somali, Amharic, Tigrinya, and Oromo. This group received training on the reality of fire, home fire safety, and how 911 and the fire department works. Classroom training included tours of fire stations and the Fire Alarm Center. One very important aspect of this training was the information the CFSAs shared with the fire department on some of their traditions and customs that could potentially be fire hazards. It was from this exchange of ideas that shaped the training and fire safety messaging.
After receiving the training, the CFSAs primarily set out to conduct outreach and education at community events to reach target populations. At these events, they utilized interactive activities to demonstrate important fire prevention and safety messaging. They also gave presentations in their native languages. The focus of their safety messaging was cooking fire safety, home fire evacuation, and calling 911 – the most common fire-related concerns. They also discussed how to be safe when burning incense or when roasting coffee at home.
Two of my favorite subjects to talk about are heaters and smoke alarms because when I go to a friends or relatives house, I see their furniture is against their baseboard heater or the smoke alarm is hanging open. I taught them about fire safety, and now they know how to keep their home safe. When I give a presentation, I give examples about my own family and the people in the audience tell me their houses are not safe. They tell me when they go home today; they are going to make a change in their own house. Every time I hear that, I feel that my team and I have done a great job.Maymuna – CFSA (first cohort)
CFSA outreach activities were often supported with firefighter visits at community events. Firefighter visits allow immigrant/refugee community members to interact with firefighters in a non-emergency situation which builds trust and strengthens relationships between the fire department and the communities it serves.
CFSAs after 10 years
Since 2010, the CFSA program expanded to include addional immigrant/refugee communities in Seattle. The program has been recognized nationally for being a successful community risk reduction program. Currently, there are 11 active community members who provide fire safety and CPR education in Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, Somali, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese (Mandarin & Cantonese) and Spanish.
Over the past 10 years, educational messaging expanded to include CPR education, carbon monoxide poisoning prevention, and the importance of working smoke/CO alarms.
June 12, 2020 will mark 10 years since the tragic fire that took 5 lives. The CFSAs have made a positive impact in our communities, especially those most vulnerable to fires and other emergencies. Over the past 10 years, CFSAs have made over 34,000 community contacts. Because of their knowledge of the fire department and the communities in which they serve, the CFSAs have also been tasked with serving on focus groups and assisting with interpretation and translation needs. Their input has shaped how the Public Affairs Division conducts its outreach in immigrant/refugee communities. Beyond the numbers, their efforts not only make communities safer, they provide a vital link between the Seattle Fire Department and the communities it serves. CFSAs make it possible for the department to build stronger relationships with community-based organizations and establish trust among Seattle’s most vulnerable communities.
For me it’s been a very amazing and fruitful learning experience working with the CFSA program as a community outreach and educator advocate. This program really provides the basics and importance of fire safety at home for our community. And seeing the response from many people when we are out there providing the information and education is very meaningful to me because it shows that we are doing a very good job and also brings to life the awareness of fire safety.Paola F. – CFSA
I love it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily halted community outreach efforts but the department is preparing and planning to continue this important work in the near future.
For more information about the CFSA program or to request participation in a community event or presentation, contact William Mace.