First responders are on the front lines of accidents, medical emergencies, crime scenes. By necessity, they react to tragedy and try to pick up the pieces. 

But a group of Richmond first responders is now on the front lines of a way to proactively assess a community's risks, and thereby, allow the community to know where to focus its efforts on prevention, and where to focus its resources. 

The Richmond Fire Department is looking to create a risk assessment tool, which, if successful, will be the first of its kind. 

"This will allow a community to build a holistic view of the risks a community may face," RFD public information officer Corey Lewis said. 

Though tools exist to aid a community looking to find out what its greatest risks are, none are simple, Lewis said. None allow a community to simply plug in its data. 

"There is no universal tool," he said. 

Lewis discovered just how difficult it was to assess a community's risks when he tried to perform an assessment in Richmond following his time serving on the governor's State Fire Marshal Task Force. 

"I came back here, and I realized we needed to do a community risk assessment," he said. 

Lewis reached out to several national organizations, but was unable to find a tool that adequately served his purpose. 

The risks the tool the RFD hopes to create would help assess could be anything from not having smoke detectors in homes in a certain neighborhood to risks such as potential for opioid overdoses in an area, Lewis said. 

Oftentimes, the actual risks are not what the community thinks they are, Lewis said. And that leads to problems from the start in trying to prevent tragedy. 

"Knowing the risk is the first step to addressing the risk," he said. 

Though the actual work of creating the tool will not begin unless and until the grant is awarded, there's already been a lot of work. Though Lewis has helped write many grant applications, he has never taken on a project of this scope, with the level of complexity this project has.

He has spent months working with a team of experts to develop the concept itself. 

Lewis and others with the department put together the team, including experts with Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, to also help with the grant proposal and to help determine what the cost to create the tool will be. Once funding is secured, the team, which includes students well-versed in statistics, will help with the tool's creation, and testing of the tool once it is completed. 

When all that is done, then the tool can be put out for communities across Kentucky and the nation to use. 

The fire department received approval earlier this month from the city commission to apply for a grant through FEMA to fund the $327,000 project, with the city contributing a 5 percent required match over the next two years. 

Having a tool that pinpoints where a community's greatest hazards lie is especially vital in the face of greater and greater financial stress for local governments, Lewis said. 

"Dollars are tight right now," he said. "I think it's important that we put our personnel to the right areas, and concentrate our efforts on the appropriate prevention measures."

Though the greater than $300,000 price tag for the project might seem steep, Lewis said it's not much when the amount is broken down by just the number of fire departments nationwide that would be able to access the tool.

The cost breaks down to just over $11 for each of the nation's fire departments. (Though available figures vary slightly, most state the number of fire departments nationwide is a little less than 30,000.)

The grant applied for, which is an Assistance to Firefighters Grant through FEMA, is very competitive. But Lewis said he feels the project has a good chance of being awarded funding. 

"We put together a solid application; we have a solid project," he said. "Of course, if we don't receive the grant, we'll look for other funding options."

Lewis said he sees creation of the tool as a way for Richmond to be in the forefront of helping make communities safer. 

"I think we have the opportunity to become a national leader," he said. 

Reach Kelly McKinney at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @kellymckinney18.

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