I’ve been a social entrepreneur for over a decade now and in that role I’ve had the honor of meeting changemakers who are doing good all over the world. Whether on my podcast, my work with startup social entrepreneurs, or consulting work with social ventures, I’ve seen firsthand what it means to be on the front lines of social change.
So, as you might imagine, it takes quite a passionate change agent to truly impress upon me. Joe Kelly is one such individual who I had the chance to interview this past week. Joe’s a devoted firefighter, father, and school board member who is passionate about changing the way the world teaches fire prevention education to its children.
To be honest, in the world of social issues, I cannot say that fire prevention was one that originally would have ticked on my radar. But Joe only needed a few minutes to convince me of the dire need for improving the way we teach kids to prevent fire danger. In 2016, there were almost half a million burn injuries in the U.S. and almost three thousand fatalities due to preventable home fires. So many of these could be avoided with prevention education that is interactive, engaging and, most importantly, based on best practices for fire safety education.
Joe and his son are a teaching duo that use the Fire-ED Fully Involved Teaching Tool to save kids’ lives throughout Pennsylvania. What struck me most about Joe is his genuine heart for his social mission. He’s been a firefighter for over 3 decades and in that time has seen it all: non-working smoke detectors causing deaths, ‘prevention education’ that barely lasts a day and revolves more around ‘swag’ than it does actually engaging kids, and a lack of regular education that would ‘deputize’ youth to proactively prevent fire related accidents. Despite these challenges, Joe works tirelessly every day to radically transform the way fire prevention education is handled.
Specifically, Joe is leading a local movement to make fire prevention education a regular part of school curriculums. This is because his method of regularly teaching kids about fire prevention education is proven to save more lives. One thing that Joe taught me about was the fact that fire ‘prevention’ education typically revolves around kids checking out a fire truck and happens only one time per year. This is fun for kids but hardly a way to really teach them about the dangers of fire. With the Fire-ED Fully Involved Teaching Tool, students are empowered to become role models in their community as they help their peers identify and eliminate fire hazards in their homes and schools.
Joe is also the creator of the the Luzerne County Juvenile Firesetter Program. This program has made a significant impact by bringing strong role models alongside high risk youth. Juveniles who were formally compulsive firesetters are literally being transformed by this program. He is also leading the charge to get this much needed program adopted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Social entrepreneurship is all about starting local movements that grow exponentially to solve massive problems. Fire deaths and accidents are completely preventable, and yet they claim far too many lives each year. Joe and his son have found a model that works. His is a story that needs to be shared and replicated in communities around the world.