Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on September 4, 2018.

Three Simple Steps

The 2018 Fire Prevention Week theme reflects the unsettling realities of today’s home fires

Fire Prevention Week is more important than ever.

As I sat down to write this column about 2018’s FPW, a Boston Globe headline caught my eye: “Behind a Wall of Flames.” The article told a tragic story about a father and his four-year-old son who had died six months earlier in a home fire in Rhode Island, their bodies found near a door that would have led them to safety outside. Being so close, why couldn’t they get out? Knowing what we do about the speed of today’s fires, the likely answer is they simply didn’t have time before being overcome by toxic smoke.

I write often in this column about the challenges of getting the public to recognize that there is still a home fire risk, even as the number of fire incidents nationally is decreasing. The deaths of this father and son are a painful reminder that the risk is still very real. In fact, home fires are perhaps even more dangerous today than they used to be.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme is “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere.™” That theme recognizes this evolving threat and promotes three simple ways people can dramatically reduce their risk to fire and be prepared. Look for places fire can start; listen for the sound of the smoke alarm; and learn two ways out of each room.

These three actions are perhaps more essential for the public today than ever before. Research indicates that modern home fires burn faster and hotter than those of previous eras, largely due to an increase in the use of synthetic furnishings, electronics, unprotected lightweight construction, and open floor plans. Today, residents have as little as two to three minutes to escape a home fire, compared to about 10 minutes just a couple of decades ago. As a result, fires are even more dangerous. Statistics illustrate that if you experience a reported home fire today, you are more likely to die in it then you were in 1980.

Yet too many people continue to take safety for granted, and fire risks remain nowhere near top of mind. By paying attention to surroundings, looking for available exits in the event of a fire or other emergency, and taking the smoke alarm seriously if it sounds, the public can make potentially life-saving differences in the outcomes of these events. If we can get more people to follow these three simple steps, perhaps we can increase the number of people who survive today’s home fires.

To help promote these and other messages, this year NFPA has introduced Simon, a new character who helps Sparky the Fire Dog get the word out. The intent behind Simon is to appeal to an expanded age range and reach more people with these important fire safety messages. NFPA has also added messaging and resources for fire departments, educators, and safety advocates that can be used all year long, not just during Fire Prevention Week.

Though the 2018 Fire Prevention Week message applies to virtually all locations, NFPA continues to focus its efforts on home fire safety because the majority of U.S. fire deaths each year (four out of five) occurs in homes. But no matter where a fire occurs, “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere” works to remind the public that fires can and do still happen, and that there are basic but vital steps the public can take to remain safe. Promoting this theme and overall fire prevention is a critical way we can all work together to minimize the tragic stories like the one in Rhode Island.

Fire Prevention Week, an annual observance dating back more than 90 years, takes place October 7–13. To learn more on this year’s theme and activities, visit the website.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Top Illustration: Michael Hoeweler