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Publication

Social capital in rural America: A critical evaluation of the influence of social networks on community risk reduction and firefighter recruitment in the Oklahoma Panhandle

Kirtley, Charles E.
Abstract

The purpose of this qualitative study was to determine the influence of social networks on recruitment of firefighters and community risk reduction activities in a diverse rural community in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Social capital theory provides the framework for the role of interactions, social trust, and communication in building relationships within groups, between groups, and between community groups and local government organizations. Research indicates that bonding, bridging, and linking social capital can contribute to the effectiveness of risk reduction activities. Community-based programs have highlighted the role of social capital in risk reduction. However, research on the relationship between social capital and fire department initiatives is very limited. This research utilized a single case study to explore the role of social capital in the effectiveness of rural fire department recruitment of firefighters and community risk reduction initiatives. Guymon Oklahoma Hispanic citizens and firefighters were interviewed about interactions with the fire department and firefighters. Interview questions focused on the impact of those interactions on social trust of the department, and how that social trust influenced decisions on risk reduction behaviors. Participants identified four major themes in the interviews: 1) strong bonding social capital is present as a community, 2) strong bridging and linking social capital exist in the community from individuals belonging to multiple social groups and networks, 3) social groups and networks are interconnected from shared membership of Hispanic citizens, and 4) bonding, bridging, and linking social capital are required to educate members of the Hispanic community on community risk reduction issues. The key findings from the study are that 1) social capital creation in a community must be intentional on the part of the fire department, 2) firefighters have opportunities during planned and unplanned interactions to build social trust, communicate the role of the fire department, and create bridging and linking social capital, and 3) children are effective conduits of information to and from the Hispanic community. The findings have implications for how rural fire departments approach engaging immigrant groups and networks in order to create relationships and improve effectiveness of risk reduction and firefighter recruitment initiatives.

Date
2023-05