Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on December 29, 2014.

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME ABOUT THE best way to reduce the deaths, injuries, and property loss associated with fire, and how to best reach people with important fire-safety messages. My answer on the best way to reduce fire loss is simple: smoke alarms and sprinklers. Both of these technologies have played a critical role in reducing the fire problem in recent decades, and they continue to be essential in fighting the fire problem.

On the topic of how to reach people with fire safety messages, it gets a little trickier. In today’s media-saturated world, there are tons of messages across many different platforms, and it can be a struggle to break through the clutter. It is also difficult because most people don’t think they’ll ever experience a fire. In some respects we are victims of our own successes, having reduced the number of annual fire deaths from about 8,000 decades ago to fewer than 3,000. Community complacency can also make it difficult to get individuals to take simple steps to keep themselves and their families safe.

That’s why one of my key messaging strategies is “get to the kids.” Over the years, children have been a key audience for NFPA and fire-safety educators. They are great receivers of the fire-safety message, and they’re also great deliverers of that message. They effectively and enthusiastically carry those messages to their homes and tell their caregivers to check the smoke alarms, just like they tell adults to wear their seatbelts and recycle.

Now there’s another way for the younger generation to play an even bigger role in fire safety. The Paradigm Challenge is a new competition developed by Project Paradigm, a private foundation, along with the American Red Cross, the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, and a coalition of fire safety organizations including NFPA, to get youth ages 7–18 involved in effecting fire safety change. The first of what is expected to be an annual competition is focused on soliciting ideas to reduce death and injuries from home fires. If the notion of saving lives and preventing injuries isn’t sufficient motivation, there’s a good chunk of money to further boost the incentive for participants; the Challenge will award up to $100,000 per team for the top 100 teams.

Home Fires: The First Annual Paradigm Challenge

    Via YouTube.com/channel/UC2q_0lutRXMhVC1JswJKAQQ

Teams can register online until May 1. A panel of judges will select the top 100 finalists based on the efficacy, feasibility, and originality of the teams’ proposals, along with the quality of the presentation and the collaboration of the team. There will be first-, second-, and third-place winners in each of three age categories, as well as an overall grand-prize winner. Age category prizes range from $5,000 to $20,000, and the grand-prize team will share $100,000. Up to four participants from each first-place team, as well as the grand-prize team, will receive a trip to Los Angeles to attend a special awards ceremony. In addition, the public will be able to vote for its favorite choice among the top 100 entrants. The 10 teams that receive the most votes from the public will also share cash prizes.

I really like this idea. It brings together a number of major safety organizations, it rewards creativity, collaboration, and innovation in today’s youth, and it has the potential to find the next big idea in fire safety and break the plateau in fire-loss statistics.

Game on. I can’t wait to see what comes from this.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA.