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Firefighters spread message to residents

By Airman 1st Class C. Todd Lopez

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (July 28, 2000) -- Forever it seems, civilians, and military members have put their faith in local fire departments to respond quickly to destructive fires in their homes, to protect their possessions and their lives, and to keep them safe.

Recently, the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, Fire Protection Flight has returned some of that faith with the implementation of Firefighters Active In the Housing Areas or FAITHA program.

"Once a week, a fire truck will drive around base and go into the housing areas," explained Chief Master Sgt. Mark T. Giuliano, 35th Fire Protection Flight fire chief. "Firefighters will knock on the doors of residences and politely ask to come into the home to check smoke detectors, inspect fire extinguishers, pass out fire safety literature, and check for 911 stickers on the phones as well as 'Don't Leave Cooking Unattended' apple-shaped stickers."

Firefighters will also discuss what to do if cooking fires occur in the home and will make themselves available to answer questions occupants may have concerning fire prevention or fire safety.

Giuliano explained the program is very similar to what Air Force fire protection flights had done in years past.

"Years ago, we had plenty of manpower, we had people in the fire prevention office assigned to conduct in-home visits, unfortunately, as the Air Force restructured and manpower was reduced, that particular function of the fire prevention office went away and mass fire prevention briefings were instituted."

According to Giuliano, Pacific Air Force bases have experienced almost twice the amount of fires this year as they did last year. "Misawa has had seven unattended cooking fires in the last fiscal year, three have caused substantial damage."

In response to the fire incident increases, PACAF has asked fire chiefs at its bases to think about new ways to spread the fire prevention and safety message.

"They have asked fire chiefs to be more progressive and aggressive in spreading the fire prevention message," said Giuliano. "I started thinking about how to better educate the public."

"FAITHA is a progressive program which puts firefighters out in the community to spread the fire prevention message and the safety message," said Giuliano. "Usually a firefighter is reactionary. There is a fire, we respond to your house and put it out. This is the firemen being proactive. We are trying to prevent the fire from starting in the first place."

While the program is not based on a new concept, it is currently the only program of its kind in PACAF. "This is our attempt to be proactive, getting the fire prevention and safety message out into the community. Nobody in PACAF is doing this, just us," said Giuliano. "This is going to be a model program for them I am sure. We have forwarded information about the program to PACAF fire officials and they are excited about it. If we can show a reduction in unattended cooking fires, I am sure this is going to be a PACAF standard."

The FAITHA program had its first run only last week, but Giuliano hopes the program will cut the number of unattended cooking fires in half.

"We're not going to hit every home in a three month period. This is spread out over the course of a couple years," said Giuliano. "If we come to your house and little Johnny next door sees the fire truck there, we are hoping he will tell his mother and that she will ask 'What's going on?' and we will have the opportunity to tell her what we are doing. Maybe she will think about fire safety in her own home as well, or be curious and ask questions."

While a fireman may eventually step off the truck and knock at your home's door, Giuliano is quick to the point out that the FAITHA program is voluntary. "If we come to your home and knock on the door and you don't want us to come in, for whatever reason, the firefighter will say thanks for your time and will turn around. This is not a home inspection, this is a courtesy visit to spread the message of fire safety in the home," said Giuliano. "If a family wants somebody to check their smoke detectors, all they have to do is call the Fire Prevention Office at 226-4055 and we'd be happy to come out and look."