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2015 Most Influential Women Honoree: Cara Erwin

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Cara Erwin knows a thing or two about perseverance. Nine years as an award-winning investigative reporter for KY3 News taught Erwin the value of seeking the truth and the importance of educating the community.

Investigative reports on fire inspections, home sprinklers and smoke detectors prepared her for a position she didn’t even know she’d love, and her perseverance saw her through its creation.

Erwin is the first ever fire and life safety educator for the Springfield Fire Department, and she faced tremendous challenges from the moment she was hired in 2012. Tasked with evaluating the department’s education program, making changes based on quantifiable data and training firefighters on how to educate, Erwin says creating the role was tough in an industry known for its aversion to change.

“For decades, the Springfield Fire Department was providing the same handed-down information that had always been provided. Visits from firefighters were about good public relations instead of public education,” she says.

“As Springfield’s fire death rate inched toward double the national rate, it became clear that changes needed to be made.”

Erwin’s reporter instincts kicked in as she first set out to learn all she could about fire service, research local statistics and obtain certifications previously only sought out by the highest department leaders. Erwin says redesigning the entire public education program based on her findings was the easy part.

“The difficult part would be retraining 220 seasoned firefighters and obtaining their support,” she says. “I knew without buy-in from line personnel, the program would never succeed.”

Erwin immersed herself in firefighter culture to gain their trust and her opportunity. Fittingly, Chief David Hall says she blazed a trail.

“She has the willingness to take on the tough issues facing our community, even in the face of opposition,” he says. “Her perseverance, fortitude and professionalism won over her colleagues.

“She has proven her mettle without which the odds were toward failure.”

Since 2011, building fires in Springfield have fallen 16 percent, fire-related injuries have fallen 27 percent and fire-related deaths dropped 25 percent. However, Erwin says the Springfield numbers still lag behind similar-size communities.

“While three fire deaths in 2014 is an improvement, even one death is too many,” she says.

Through her efforts, during the first year of the campaign educators visited all 37 elementary schools in the Springfield district, consisting of 390 classes and more than 8,000 students.

As one of only nine women in the department, Erwin speaks often about the importance of strong women representation and was instrumental in planning the department’s first ever recruitment event geared toward women, dubbed Girls on Fire. As a result, the department reported the highest number of women applicants on record.

Outside the firehouse, she serves as chairwoman of Springfield SafeKids and is founder and chairwoman of Springfield’s Safe and Sanitary Homes Program, a collaborative effort of the Community Partnership of the Ozarks aimed at reducing unsafe and unsanitary living conditions in the community.


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