Author(s): April Briggs. Published on May 1, 2013.

Listen to My Words
Revising fire safety messaging for preschoolers

NFPA Journal, May/June 2013 

Late last year, NFPA brought together some of the key national organizations that share an interest in providing fire safety education to preschoolers. The meeting, which we called the Preschool Fire Safety Messaging Roundtable, provided an opportunity for educators to discuss what behaviors are being taught and to evaluate what new research needs to be done to ensure we are teaching the most appropriate behaviors. The meeting was timely, since children under the age of five have a 20 percent greater chance of dying in a home fire compared to the general population. Boys in this age group are at an even greater risk than girls.



March - April 2013
Every home fire affects real people

January - February 2013
Smoke alarms need to be replaced every 10 years

November - December 2012
Water supply requirements and home fire sprinklers

September - October 2012
Connecting Fire Prevention Week to the classroom

July - August 2012
A look at a Texas fire department’s PSA program.

May - June 2012
Using focus groups to determine a community’s fire safety needs

The roundtable came to a consensus on five messages that should be taught:

Know the sound of the smoke alarm. Preschoolers need to know the purpose of a smoke alarm, recognize its sound, and know what to do when an alarm sounds.

Stay away from hot things. This positive message empowers young children to take action that will keep them safe.

Don’t touch matches or lighters; tell a grown-up if you find matches or lighters. The message gives children an action to help keep them safe.

Research has shown that such messaging can have a limited effect on actual behavior, however, which is why it’s important for parents and caregivers to store matches, lighters, and other potential fire dangers out of the reach of children.

Learn about firefighters as community helpers. A good fit in the preschool curriculum, this message helps children recognize that firefighters are friendly helpers and that they should not be afraid of them.

Practice your fire escape, and get outside. Children should participate in the development of a family home fire escape plan, and practice that plan. They should understand that when a smoke alarm sounds, get outside and stay outside.

Other messages were reviewed by the roundtable group and considered inappropriate for this age level, including “cool a burn” — the practice of running cool water over a burn — which should be a message for parents, as well as the use of fire extinguishers and escape ladders, which were determined to be inappropriate for preschoolers.

The roundtable also identified successful teaching methodologies for this age level. Preschoolers learn through activity, especially play, which is why more static or passive approaches like coloring books, worksheets, and videos are not developmentally appropriate. A play-based approach that engages children’s senses of sight, hearing, and touch will typically be much more effective at conveying safety messages. Keep in mind that children this age have short attention spans, so it’s best to keep lessons under 15 minutes using simple, positive messages.

Three research needs were identified as priorities: determining the best and most effective way to educate parents and caregivers; identifying developmentally appropriate practices for firefighters to reach preschoolers; and identifying the appropriate age to begin teaching stop, drop, and roll.

The roundtable event has already resulted in changes to safety messaging. NFPA’s Learn Not to Burn® Preschool Program, created more than 20 years ago to reach children ages 4–5, has been revamped to feature the five key messages identified by the roundtable. Three of the messages are available at the program’s website,, and two more will be added over the next year.

For the complete report of the Preschool Fire Safety Messaging Roundtable, visit

April Briggs is associate project manager for Public Education at NFPA.