Engaging your community in fire safety

It’s New Year’s Resolution time, and for Fire & Life Safety (FLS) educators, that means helping our communities adopt fire safety habits.  According to the NFPA Report on Fire Loss in the U.S., 2019, local fire departments responded to almost 1.3 million fires in 2019. These fires caused roughly 3,700 civilian deaths, 16,600 civilian injuries and $14.8 billion in property damage. A fire occurs in a structure at the rate of one every 65 seconds, and a home fire occurs every 93 seconds. 

Those of us in the world of fire and life safety (FLS) education live and breathe these types of statistics and are constantly trying to find ways to engage our community to keep fire prevention top of mind and integrated into daily life.  From smoke & CO alarms to home escape planning, to safe cooking and heating practices, our goal is for our community members to make fire safety as much a habit as brushing their teeth. 

Anyone who has tried to stop biting their nails or tried to start an exercise regimen knows that it takes more than just knowing something is good/bad to create motivation and action towards starting or breaking a habit.  It’s not enough to just know and agree that smoke alarms and home escape planning are important to home fire safety.  Getting people to adopt fire safety behaviors requires a number of interrelated factors to fall into place.

One such factor is the way in which people consider their actual risk of harm from fire.   Just as people “know” texting and driving increases the risk of a crash, many still engage in this dangerous behavior because they’ve somehow managed to skew the risk in their favor, ie. “it’s only for a second,” “I have quick reflexes,” or “I’m good at multitasking.”  So too with fire safety in which people often assume they will have plenty of time to escape a fire, have the ability to put out a fire, or overestimate their ability to detect a fire on their own. 

Fire & Life Safety educators use a variety of methods to address this perception of risk by sharing local data, personal stories, and using fire incidents as ways for people to connect the dots to their own lives.  NFPA's Community Tool Kits provide a variety of tools to support these efforts in using data, information and provision of actionable resources with the goal of adoption of fire safety behaviors.  Resolve to keep promoting fire safety as a daily habit for your community with the help of these toolkits which provide a multi-dimensional to approach behavior change with a variety of tactics and community partners.  

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Andrea Vastis
Senior Director, Public Education, public health promotion & education professional passionate about eliminating disparities in access, education and resources.

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