Mark A. Harper Sr., Firefighter
Mark A. Harper Sr. was born on May 11, 1962 in Akron, Ohio, without an idea of the journey he would begin that day. His mother Betty Harper, who through personal sacrifices showed him the importance of helping others, influenced Mark in his early years. With this parental education, Mark investigated jobs and positions where he would be able to ‘help’ the public. He was hired by the Akron Fire Department on March 11, 1985. Dedicated to a job that entailed his goal in life, he decided he wanted to do more to reach as many people as possible, and increase awareness about the dangers of injuries caused by fires. With the support of his wife and two children, when the chance arose for Mark to assist with the development of the Public Education Office for the Akron Fire Department, he jumped at the opportunity. Here he found his avenue to reach the public sector and address injury prevention to the community.
From the start of his career, Mark visited his nieces’ and nephews’ classes, and later his own children’s class, to teach fire safety even before there was an official public education effort from the Fire Department. Animated, and at the level of the group he was instructing, he interested the children, helping them to join in and learn. Teaching became natural to him. In 1990, Mark joined forces with the Clifford R. Boeckman MD Regional Burn Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. There, he helped with the development of the Juvenile Firestopper’s Class, an educational program for children who have engaged in some sort of firesetting activity. The age-appropriate curriculum included children from ages 3 to 17. Classes were held at the Burn Center in the evenings, making it possible for the child to attend with their parent without missing school. He participated in this effort for more than a year on his own time, even though he was still a ‘line’ firefighter.
On June 1, 1991, the Akron Fire Department began to formalize their public education efforts by transferring two line firefighters to the newly developed Public Education Office. Mark was selected to assist the District Chief in charge of this office. Their goals were to develop and implement various programs in fire safety and prevention and apply these programs to many age groups and sectors of the community. By using the alliance he had formed with the Boeckman Regional Burn Center, Mark was able to address fire and burn prevention needs of the community and develop programs that encompassed safety strategies for both fire and burn injuries. It was through this affiliation Mark was first exposed to burn camps, where he learned a valuable lesson of viewing the person first and the injury second.
In 1991, Mark became a member of the Summit/Stark Aluminum Cans for Burned Children (ACBC) Board, where he held several elected offices including Assistant Treasurer, Vice President and President, an office he held for four years before deciding to step down in 2000. During this break away from the board, Mark continued helping with the planning of ACBC events that benefited burn survivors of all ages: burn camp, an annual holiday program, and an adult survivor retreat weekend. He promoted the group throughout the community by various fundraising activities and returned to the ACBC Board in 2003.
Mark joined the American Burn Association in 1992 where he quickly learned how little he knew about burn prevention. He gained a wealth of information by working with others. While networking with other fire and burn prevention educators, Mark was invited to be a part of a National Burn Prevention Committee - The Burn Awareness Coalition. A few years later, he was invited to become a member of the ABA Burn Prevention Committee. He has served on the ABA Burn Prevention Committee since 1999, and has helped write and edit various burn awareness campaigns.
Mark works with the North Eastern Ohio University College of Medicine (NEOUCOM) Community Clerkship Program. This program has senior medical students work in the community to initiate a program dealing with a defined problem or condition pertinent to that population. The experience removes the medical student from their conventional role as doctor and throws them into one where anticipatory guidance is their medicine. By taking part in this program, the students learn how other factors affect their patients and families in the community they serve.
Mark has been instrumental in developing programs for the burn survivor. He helped organize a S.O.A.R. (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) training session at Akron Children’s in 2002 and is presently coordinator of this program. He has developed novel teaching aids including a video, “Don’t Let Your Child Get Carried Away,” for the Juvenile Firestopper program, which is currently used by The Ohio State Fire Marshall’s Office in its Juvenile Firesetter’s Classes. He entered the cover of this video into the 2001 ABA Prevention Poster contest and was awarded first place. Mark has helped with the development, funding, and production of two widely used fire and burn prevention games across the United States: Smokey’s Firehouse and The Fire Fighter’s game, as well as a CD-ROM game, Smokey’s SAFE House, which is available on the Internet. In maintaining his goal to reach out to the public, Mark has put tireless hours into preparing programs for groups in need and obtaining grant funding to implement these programs. He is continually striving for a safer environment for the community.