Although most fire safety statistics do not show immigrants and people who speak languages other than English to be at a higher risk to fire, many fire departments show an interest in involving them in their fire safety programs. North American fire departments have to ensure that they reach everyone with their fire and life safety information and smoke alarm installation programs. The increases in immigrant populations are not just a growing challenge for urban departments, many smaller communities are also seeing increases.
Having someone on the fire department who speaks every language spoken in the municipality is most likely impossible. Cultural issues can be even more challenging than finding someone who speaks a specific language. Having a member of the fire department staff who knows the process of learning the individual cultures and building trust with the leaders in immigrant communities is important.
Fire safety professionals need to ensure that community newcomers understand the fire hazards, technology, and emergency response systems of their new country. Language and cultural differences between immigrant populations and the fire department and other caregivers can present difficulties in communication and in responding to emergencies. Fire departments, as well as other municipal agencies, often lack translators and role models for immigrant populations.
Beyond language and cultural differences, successfully reaching out to immigrant populations means overcoming other issues, as well. The current national debate on immigration, for example, has stirred significant fears among immigrants. As a result, they may be reluctant to approach the fire department for smoke alarms or other advice, fearful that the fire department will make inquiries as to their legal status. In addition, immigrants often live in crowded conditions. Multiple families live in spaces designed for a single family. Buildings become redesigned to accommodate more people, such as converting attics and basements into living and sleeping spaces.
This Fire Prevention Week (FPW), October 6-12, presents a great opportunity to reach out to the immigrant population in your community.
Identify the immigrant population
Of course, before you can tailor your message and your approach, you must identify the group you are trying to reach. Here are some ideas on how to find and learn about the immigrant populations in your community:
FPW activities for Immigrant Populations
- Stats Canada and U.S. Census Bureau provide community profiles. Enter the town or city to acquire demographic information including immigrant status and visible minority population characteristics.
- Search the Web – Many groups and organizations provide services to newcomers and existing immigrant and refugee groups. For example, in Ontario, the main agency is the Ontario Council for Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). There are similar Councils in every province. In addition, you can find particular agencies serving immigrants in your city or town. Check out local city or state services, such as the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians that provide services for newcomers in Philadelphia.
- Church Groups and Places of Worship – Check out groups and organizations, such as the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Washington DC; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services in Washington DC; and the Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education, Inc.
- Contact local police (community outreach) - Many police groups and other community service agencies attempt to reach out and provide information and education to immigrant populations. The local police often do excellent outreach to various communities and are eager to provide information on who they work with and what strategies they use.
- Contact other Fire Services – Find out about and build on what other fire services have already done. For example, Emergency, Community, and Health Outreach offers several safety videos, such as Prevent Hot Liquid Burns at Home and Prevention of Kitchen Fires.
- Contact Educational Facilities or City Run Adult Education Courses for any English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. Many fire service personnel have excellent fire safety programs as part of the ESL courses. This is great way to educate newcomers and introduce the fire service to the community.
- Give a presentation at a place of workshop with a large immigrant population.
- 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 newsletters targeted to immigrant or foreign-language speaking populations. Make sure that you have 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 Prevention Program for Older Adults. Use the downloadable PowerPoint presentations or prepare a PowerPoint using the fire and fall cards and handouts available in 18 Languages. The complete Remembering When program in Spanish is also available.
- Work with your local school district to identify schools with a large immigrant population. Send the easy-to-read handouts along with specific Fire Prevention Week materials home to the 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 who can help you from the community.
- 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.