A small handful of Houston Fire Department personnel responds to calls all day every day so emergency firefighting crews don’t have to later.
They are part of HFD’s community outreach team, and prevention is the name of their game.
These firefighters cover all 600-plus square miles of Houston’s city limits putting up fire alarms, not putting out fires. There is no telling how many fires they have averted and how much damage avoided, but it would no doubt test the quickest calculator.
Now they have a new tool in the fight to stop fires before they start: the HFD Community Outreach Vehicle.
Previously, outreach members used fleet cars or whatever mode of transportation was available. Today they hit the streets in a 2016 Ford Transit van, still close enough to brand new that it has the new car smell. But you’ll see it first, with its fiery colors, HFD badge, slogans and website wrapping the vehicle.
Public Information Officer Kenyatta Parker says the new vehicle makes a world of difference. He credited Senior Captain Ruy Lozano with the safety vehicle.
“Captain Lozano knew what we needed — something functional,” he said.
And that’s just what they got. Behind the small van’s driver and passenger seats is ample cargo space to haul the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors they install across the sprawling city, plus the ladders, tools and equipment needed to do the job.
Longtime corporate partner KBR provided a grant to funded the vehicle.
This is just the latest support KBR provided HFD. Previous grants helped with the purchase of equipment, including $125,000 worth of Blitzfire nozzles for all HFD pumper trucks.
But Parker and his public affairs and community outreach colleague Mike Cornwell are elated about the new van. They have too often seen damage and even deaths that simple smoke detectors could have averted. That’s why they are committed to answering every call and request for installations and reducing the number of residences with no smoke or carbon monoxide detectors or malfunctioning ones.
But it’s a tall order.
“To give you an idea of the task, it’s Mike and I and maybe three or four others who do this. That’s it,” Parker said. “We do between 3,000 to 4,000 installs a year.”
Cornwell said he, Parker and the other HFD community outreach officers often respond to active fire scenes and canvass the surrounding area surveying residents about whether they have properly functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. People can be more receptive to installing detectors in the immediate aftermath of a neighbor’s fire.
Many of the installations are in response to direct calls, though. The HFD community outreach officers fill every call they receive.
“For two of us to do an install, it may take as little as 10 minutes,” Cornwell said. “If someone calls, we know there’s a need.”
Parker added: “Being proactive is something that will help us in the long run. It can prevent fires from happening or help detect a situation before it spreads and causes damage, injuries or fatalities.”
To contact HFD for a smoke or carbon monoxide detector, call 832-394-6633.
Detector installations are part of HFD’s Get Alarmed Houston program.
Watch an HTV news segment about the Community Outreach Vehicle