Published on May 4, 2015.

FOR FIRE AND LIFE SAFETY EDUCATORS, the goal of any public program is to present relevant factual information that is within the experience of the audience. Presenting local data and local history—for example, referencing people within the community who have been negatively impacted, along with those who have improved their levels of safety—can make safety information meaningful to participants. It is vital for educators to ask questions and understand the world of the participants, and to validate their attitudes, even if they may run contrary to safe behavior.

It is within this context that fire and life safety educators then need to help audiences recognize where their behaviors may help or harm them, and how they fit into the intended outcomes of a particular safety program. In addition to addressing perceptions of risk, we need to consider whether people truly have the skills and resources to perform the tasks connected to the desired behavior. Can residents install, test, and maintain smoke alarms? Do they have the abilities to plan escape routes and summon help from the fire department? Some of these skills are not complex, but they still require time, energy, and support for follow through.

Education is only effective with proper environmental supports and social enforcement. As educators, our job is to assure that people have the education and environmental supports (in the form of resources, skills, and attitude shift), while working with community leaders to enact policies and laws that enforce public safety; teaching people to plan their escape routes, for example, is ineffective if they don’t have working smoke alarms in their homes. To be effective, we need to address participants’ knowledge, acceptance of risk, and willingness to make physical changes in their homes.

A few tips to consider:

  1. When planning educational sessions, whether for individuals or groups, consider what you can do to tap into the attitudes of your audience. Instead of delivering a monologue of safety facts, involve your audience in the session; make it a  conversation, with the expectation that they participate and share.
  2. Ask questions. Listen closely to peoples’ answers for hints about their perceptions connected to your topic.
  3. Sharing risk data can be powerful when it is relevant to your participants’ experiences, culture, and context.
  4. Guide audience members toward an understanding of how their quality of life can be impacted if they were to be injured, and the resulting impact on their loved ones.
  5. Alert people to the many physical, emotional, and social benefits of engaging in injury prevention behaviors. Do not be afraid to ask them about their obstacles, and rather than telling them what to do, talk through solutions together.
FOR MORE INFO The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) provides a wealth of information about behavior change theories applied to injury prevention on its website.