Firefighters work to bridge the gap between the City and the East African community

For the past several months, firefighters have been working with young people from Cedar Riverside’s East African community to build relationships, reduce misunderstandings and make the community a safer place to live.

To do that, the department obtained a $20,000 grant that is being used to fund the Cedar Riverside Youth Firefighter Ambassador Program. The 15-week program, was developed by Captains Tracy Moore and Casidy Anderson, and is supported by the firefighters at Stations 7 and 5, the two stations nearest Cedar Riverside.

Approximately 25 girls and boys — mainly high school age youth — come to the Brian Coyle Center each Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. to learn from firefighters and get to know them as neighbors, friends and mentors.  

So far, the teens have shared dinner with firefighters, toured Fire Stations 7 and 5, donned turn-out gear, learned how to prevent fires and use a fire extinguisher, practiced using ropes and knots, and learned how to administer first aid and CPR. This week, they’ll help staff tables and answer fire safety questions at the Riverside Plaza Apartments. In the coming weeks they’ll visit the Fire Museum, tour the Emergency Communications Center and plan their community’s Global Youth Service Day.

As the teens get to know firefighters as people — not just strangers in a uniform — they become the Fire Department’s ambassadors to the Cedar Riverside community as they share stories about their experiences and what they’ve learned. Knowledge about fire prevention and increased trust is expected to make the community safer.  

One of the goals of the newly established firefighter ambassador program is reducing the number of non-emergency 911 calls and preventable fires. Many new immigrants haven’t yet learned when it’s appropriate to call 911; as a result, Cedar Riverside experiences a high percentage of 911 calls that don’t require an emergency response, such as headaches or cut fingers. In addition, many of the fires are preventable — such as food left on an unattended stove or not understanding that a beeping smoke detector simply needs a new battery.

The program is also creating opportunities for young people. The teens who complete their first aid and CPR training will be eligible for internships at the Brian Coyle Center. The program may also inspire some of the young people to become firefighters. Already, one program participant has applied for a position with the Minneapolis Fire Department.

The Cedar Riverside Youth Firefighter Ambassador Program began Jan. 8 and will culminate with a community event on April 26. The program is funded by a $20,000 “Connect 4 Health” grant Blue Cross Blue Shield. The grant is based on the premise that people who are more connected to their community live longer, healthier lives. 

 

Published Mar 13, 2013