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Serving immigrant and refugee populations

Two populations in your community who may be at higher risk to fire are immigrants and refugees. Language barriers, cultural differences, and inexperience with unfamiliar home technologies are factors that mark the challenges of helping newcomers live safely from the threat of fire in the home. 

Fire safety professionals should consider the following when working with immigrant and refugee populations:

  • Learn about the traditions, practices, and communication styles of the immigrants in your area. Be sensitive to the differences across your cultures and the journey people have made to live in your community.
  • Whenever possible, select materials with culturally sensitive images and content written in the participants’ native language.
  • Be aware that immigrants and refugees may be reluctant to approach the fire department, police, or other community agencies for assistance. Work with leaders of the immigrant community to help build trusting relationships with those new to the area.
Immigrant outreach
Important fire safety information for immigrant and refugee populations
  • Help newcomers learn about home fire hazards. Start with the basics. Appliances, cooking practices, and electrical systems may be very different from what is familiar to them.
  • Explain the function of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, the sounds they make to warn of a problem, and the appropriate responses to those sounds.
  • Stress the importance of escape planning. Immigrants often live in crowded conditions. Some spaces in the home may have been re-purposed to serve as sleeping quarters, making escape more complex. 
  • Inform immigrants and newcomers about the emergency response system. The idea of calling 9-1-1 to summon help may be a completely new concept. Teach them which situations are 9-1-1 appropriate and how to call for help. Keep in mind that some people may be hesitant because they think there is a cost to use 9-1-1. The cultural belief that home fires and other emergencies are shameful is another potential barrier that needs to be considered.    
Fire Prevention Week activities for immigrant and refugee populations   
  • Give a presentation at a place of workshop with a large immigrant population. Ask if you can conduct a short presentation before or after services and share one of the 10-minute mini-lessons. 
  • Hold an open house for families in a community center or fire house in a neighborhood with many immigrants. Advertise through radio or television or through newsletters targeted to newcomers or foreign-language speaking populations. Use interpreters or trainers who speak the language of the immigrant group you are trying to reach. Give out NFPA’s easy-to-read fire safety educational pieces in various languages. 
  • Conduct NFPA’s Remembering When™: A Fire and Fall Prevention Program for Older Adults. Access the free program materials and handouts available in English, Mandarin, and Spanish.
  • Work with your local school district to identify schools with a large immigrant population. Send the easy-to-read handouts and specific Fire Prevention Week materials to the homes of immigrant parents and caregivers. 
  • Work with local grocery stores and specialty shops that specialize in food or clothing products for specific ethnic groups to provide fire safety information. Put up a table outside or inside the store. Make sure there is an interpreter or a person from the community who can help you.
  • Learn ethnic or cultural games or activities and include them in your demonstrations to encourage participation. Provide prizes.
  • In all the above activities, sign up people for your smoke alarm installation programs.