Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on September 1, 2020.

Rolling With It

The coronavirus situation presented Fire Prevention Week organizers with a host of challenges. So they got creative.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forcing most people in the United States to adjust their routines, it probably comes as no surprise that this year’s Fire Prevention Week (FPW) will also look a bit different in many communities.

That doesn’t mean the event will have any less impact. If anything, the unique situation has forced us to get creative and adopt a few innovative approaches that, I believe, will boost awareness and participation in FPW activities both this year and into the future.  

This year’s FPW, slated for October 4–10, takes on the threat of cooking fires with its theme of “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!TM” Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires in the US and the second-leading cause of home fire deaths. The theme, which was chosen prior to the pandemic, has added relevance in 2020: with most people forced to stay home, the number of us cooking at home has also increased, and fire departments across the country are anecdotally reporting an uptick in kitchen fire incidents.

While the pandemic may have inadvertently given our theme added significance, the realities of COVID-19 made it apparent that most of our tried-and-true approaches to FPW messaging—things like open houses at fire stations and school events—were unlikely to occur. The pressure was on to do things differently while ensuring that the important cooking-safety messages reached the public. So we started brainstorming.

This summer, NFPA held a well-attended webinar with our education partners to discuss new twists to use to get important FPW information out to the public, while also maintaining social distance. One idea I love is the drive-by fire-safety open house. Instead of inviting parents and kids into the fire station to see the trucks and get FPW material, why not bring the truck and material to them? Early in the pandemic, many fire departments participated in birthday parades and other celebrations in their communities; the drive-by event takes the idea a step further by handing out information along the route. Webinar participants suggested that departments could use community data to target the truck events at neighborhoods with higher numbers of fires.  

Another great idea is to develop and utilize a range of new community partnerships that could help spread the FPW message. For instance, local restaurants and food-delivery services could bring information directly into homes by including it on pizza boxes, putting it in grocery bags, or finding other ways to deliver handouts. Local theaters and event venues could include key messages on marquees to add to community visibility while providing an awesome backdrop for selfies worthy of social media sharing. 

In addition to those methods, NFPA has also been hard at work developing digital assets to support this year’s FPW. Those include a full suite of sharable social media cards, as well as ramped-up, curriculum-based learning activities to teach and entertain young children, whether they’re in a classroom or at home. We have even seen safety departments take the lead in creating their own digital assets and online contests to promote our theme of safe cooking behavior. They have also encouraged their staffs, family members, and communities to post their own photos, videos, and even TikTok dance moves that amplify our safety messages.

While FPW may be a little unconventional this year, the importance of the effort to make our communities safer remains greater than ever. Every department and public safety organization was thrown a curveball in 2020, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something with it—let’s use this opportunity to take a swing at something new. I think we may connect with some tactics that not only work, but will become staples in outreach efforts for years to come.

Lorraine Carli is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler