Building a culture of safety : the nature of communication between the Maquassi hills fire services and the community
Citizens in many provinces in South Africa have increasingly become more vocal about their unhappiness concerning service delivery in many departments of Government; their needs are not being met. Their violence and anger are usually aimed at emergency planners and government institutions, such as the police services, emergency medical services and fire services, therefore adding to various other challenges and difficulties these institution experience in carrying out their responsibilities (News Today, 2008). These institutions are also directly involved in the Disaster Risk Reduction process and play a key role in building a culture of safety and prevention within their communities by distributing knowledge and teaching skills (Twigg, 2004). Twigg (2004) argues that providing communities with information is the only way in which the scale, frequency, and complexity of disasters can be addressed. This should be done by following a multi–disciplinary approach that includes participatory development communication as a tool. The term participatory development communication refers to communication between parties where information transfer is de–emphasised and the process of dialogue between participants is favoured (Jacobson & Kolluri, 1999). This allows for solutions to problems to be identified in a collective fashion (Twigg, 2004; Jacobson & Kolluri, 1999). In light of the above the Maquassi Hills Fire Service’s relationship with the community has a major impact on the contribution the fire services make to building a culture of safety and also to what extent the community works towards building a culture of safety –– and thereby reducing disaster risk within the community. This study, consequently, aims to investigate the current relationship between the Maquassi Hills Fire Services and the community they serve, as well as the role of participatory development communication in this relationship. In order to do so this study explore various guidelines and principles set out by the literature in terms of participatory development communication and culture of safety to establish to what extent the Maquassi Hills Fire Services adhere to these principles and guidelines in their day–to–day functioning. This has been done by using a qualitative research design. Data collection methods appropriate to the qualitative research design were used to collect the necessary data. These methods included focus group discussions with members of the communities in the Maquassi Hills area and semi–structured interviews with the staff and management of the Maquassi Hills Fire Services. Guidelines and principles established in theory were used to describe and evaluate the current situation between the Maquassi Hills Fire Services and the surrounding communities to whom they provide the service of fire fighting. The two main areas of theory addressed were that of Participatory Development Communication and that of a culture of safety as it presents in the Disaster Risk Reduction field. These were also the two main areas investigated in the empirical phase of the study. From the research it was found that in terms of Participatory Development Communication very little is being done by the fire services to establish dialogical communication. Thus creating opportunities for communities to communicate with the fire services by developing relevant communication channels is not being facilitated. However communities are eager to establish such an interactive relationship with the fire services. The data indicated that when the principles and guidelines for building a culture of safety are considered there exist various positive aspects. If these aspects are utilised and facilitated in the correct manner it may facilitate the process of building a culture of safety. It is therefore recommended that the fire services should start interacting with the communities in the Maquassi Hills area. Most of the issues experienced in the relationship between the fire services and the communities can to some extent be ascribed to the fact that the fire services do not reach out to the communities they serve. Interactions with the community should be based on the principles of participatory development communication which will ensure that dialogue is established and information is exchanged. Also very important in the Maquassi Hills area is supplying the communities with relevant, regular, correct and coherent fire safety information and skills. People in these communities need the necessary fire safety information to ensure their safety in terms of fire. By allowing people in these communities to participate in planning and implementing initiatives aimed at informing people, awareness campaigns and information sessions will be suited to the specific areas. This will mean that communities receive information relevant to their situation and circumstances and ultimately initiatives will be more effective, allowing the opportunity for a good culture of safety with regard to fire to be built.