The People of Fire Prevention

By Kathy Komatz, Structure Fire Training Specialist

Everyone agrees--ZERO structures burned is the goal. With more than 26,000 buildings in its care, many of which are historic, it is easy to understand why fire prevention must be a priority to the Service.

Tips from Prevention 52 Award Winners

images of two different award winners in national park uniforms
Past recipients of the Prevention 52 Award – Joe Mazzeo, Northeast Region Structural Fire Manager, and Kevin Taylor, Chief Ranger, Petersburg National Battlefield.

The Prevention 52 program was created several years ago as the result of the idea that focusing on fire prevention one week out of the year is just not enough. We, as an agency, have much more at stake. The Prevention 52 newsletter became a tool to inspire every NPS employee to take basic steps to prevent fire. At the same time, the NPS Branch of Structural Fire created the Prevention 52 Award for people who are proactive with fire prevention and do it really well. Only three awards have been given, to National Capital Region Structural Fire Manager Don Boucher, Northeast Region (NER) Structural Fire Manager Joe Mazzeo, and Petersburg National Battlefield Chief Ranger Kevin Taylor. Two award winners tell us what the award has meant to them and share some words of wisdom with those working to manage a successful fire prevention program.

As chief ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield, Kevin Taylor is also the collateral duty safety officer and the park structural fire coordinator (PSFC). Taylor considers himself a structural fire professional, spending more of his career with fire than law enforcement. He began his career at Mammoth Cave National Park as a structure firefighter, and then learned on the job about the prevention side of structural fire management. He is mostly self-taught, but has also gotten some guidance, support, and several courses through the Northeast Regional Office.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather!,” Taylor said, adding that the P52 award is the biggest award he has received in his NPS career. “I got all choked up,” he said. “I enjoy this stuff and it has always given me satisfaction to protect employees and park visitors."

Nearing retirement now, Taylor reflects that he has accomplished almost everything he wanted to in the park. When asked about handing off his PSFC duties, Taylor offered some advice:

  • Be patient with everyone you contact. Change isn’t always well received at first. Be patient as you explain why you are taking certain steps and that just because something hasn’t happened before, doesn’t mean it won’t, so we need to plan accordingly.
  • Build a good relationship with the park’s outside resources. You need them.
  • Recognize that it is difficult to step into the role of PSFC if you haven’t been a firefighter before, but there are a lot of resources that can help you be successful… use them.
  • Lastly, engage your staff early by delegating some structural fire responsibilities, such as fire extinguisher inspections or follow-up from annual inspections.

Taylor gave kudos to the NER’s structural fire staff, Joe Mazzeo and Donna Baumgartner. Mazzeo is also a Prevention 52 Award recipient. Mazzeo also admits to being very surprised at receiving the Prevention 52 Award, and stated that the award carries a great deal of personal meaning--that all the years of fire prevention efforts behind the scenes were being recognized. “That feels good!,” Joe exclaimed. He also felt that the award should have been shared with Donna because their success has been a team effort.

Joe feels that to have a successful fire prevention program, keep the following simple things in mind:

  • Continually look for ways to make things better.
  • Learn from others.
  • There is a big world out there … also look beyond the NPS for ideas.
  • Give your employees fire prevention tools they can use at home. Their awareness will carry over to work.

Everyone agrees--ZERO structures burned is the goal. With more than 26,000 buildings in its care, many of which are historic, it is easy to understand why fire prevention must be a priority to the Service. Not only do many of these structures function as housing for NPS employees and accommodations for park visitors, but we preserve over 100 million objects, artifacts, and archives in our buildings, making the NPS steward of one of the largest collections of museums in the world.

Even if you are not a park structural fire coordinator or a regional structural fire manager, you can make a difference by doing the simple things shared by our Prevention 52 recipients. You could even be the next recipient of the Prevention 52 award.