The 2019 Fire Prevention Week theme is catchy: “Not every hero wears a cape. Plan and practice your escape”. It’s also critical.
We all know the data; occupants have fewer than two minutes to get out of a burning home.
At the 2019 NFPA conference in June, fire- and life-safety educators described over and over in a workshop their similar success stories: young children leading their families to safety in a smoke-filled home after practising their escape plans at home or in school. Or, parents who had experienced a home fire approaching department personnel in the local bank or grocery store and thanking them for speaking to their kids about smoke alarms and escape plans – for saving their lives.
It sounds dramatic, but in four days at the conference in San Antonio, Texas, I heard myriad stories of saves that were directly attributed to educators visiting schools or speaking at community events, and making sure children took critical life-safety messages home to their parents and families.
We talk a lot these days about community risk reduction: partnering with groups and agencies to identify risks, then building strategies and programs to develop stronger, safer communities.
We encourage municipalities to do that. We want fire departments to analyze data, figure out the problem areas (risks), and create public-education programs to help mitigate those risks. But we also want everyone to embrace Fire Prevention Week – an annual NFPA campaign that allows fire-safety advocates across North America to target audiences with one message, in this case, knowing how to safely exit the home when the smoke alarm sounds. (The story on page 10 of this publication provides more detail on this year’s theme.)
Your data – your community risk assessment – may show that children are no longer at greater risk of being injured or dying in a fire. That’s true. Codes and standards, fire prevention and public education have led to reduced risk. And that is a huge accomplishment. With children, rather than changing less-than-stellar behaviour – which is the objective of public education for adults – we are instilling good behaviour, motivating young people to take action to ensure the safety of their families.
Let’s consider for a minute why it’s critical to make and practise the escape plan. In Canada, many home fires occur at night. Waking up from a sound sleep to a foreign sound, smell or situation is likely to result in inertia, confusion and the loss of valuable seconds (if not moments). Lightweight construction, the volume of combustibles, open spaces, lack of home fire sprinklers; you all know the factors that make home fires today more dangerous and devastating.
Firefighters practise skills not only until they get them right, but also until they can’t get them wrong. Athletes and musicians practise their crafts until they can’t get them wrong – and there are no lives at stake. Astronauts and pilots, surgeons and dentists, welders and electricians train and practise and train and practise more. Yet when our most precious commodities – our families – are at risk, people figure someone else will save them from a deadly situation, in their own homes.
People underestimate the smoke and heat caused by burning combustibles, and overestimate their abilities to escape a fire. Hollywood doesn’t help.
And, there’s no doubt that fewer fires have resulted in more complacency. The “it-won’t-happen-to-me mentality” is rampant in today’s narcissistic society that’s more worried about the speed of the wi-fi or snapping the perfect Instagram photo, than the ability to escape a house fire. Fire ranks lower on BuzzFeed-type lists of people’s fears than spiders and thunder. Eeks.
So, we’ve still got work to do.
NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week theme and resources are free to download at www.firepreventionweek.org. They’re fun – there are videos, games, apps, activities, templates and everything else your department or group needs to put together a package of information for any group in your community.
There are resources to help you explain why people need to have working smoke alarms, to have two ways out of every room, to go outside and stay outside, to have an outside meeting place, and to call 911 from the meeting place (not from inside the home).
We’ve made it easy for you so you can make it easy for the people who need to practise until they can’t get it wrong.
Laura King is NFPA’s public-education representative for Canada. Contact her at canadacrr@NFPA.org and follow her on Twitter at @LauraKingNFPA and Instagram at @nfpacanada
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