Fire Fighting in Canada

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NPFA Impact: Wear a mask, stay home, check your smoke alarms

April 15, 2021
By Laura King

We’ve all, in the last year or so, learned a lot about messaging and the importance of consistency and accuracy: wear a mask; wash your hands; stay at home. 

The purpose of health and safety messaging during a pandemic is to change people’s behaviour to prevent something bad from happening. The same applies to fire-safety and fire-prevention messaging.

Behaviour change happens only after people hear the same message dozens of times, delivered by trusted sources, and when consequences are clear. Even then, only some people hear, accept, and adopt the message and the new behaviour.

So what chance do we stand as fire chiefs, FPOs, educators and firefighters, of changing people’s behaviour – to have them install and maintain smoke alarms on every level and in all bedrooms, or never pour water on a grease fire?

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The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and fire departments across North America have evaluated public-education programs and compiled solid evidence that consistent messaging works.

Where do you find consistent fire-safety and fire-prevention messages? Many of you have heard me talk about NFPA’s messages and seen me wave around my dog-eared copy of the Educational Messages Desk Reference. While the title lacks imagination, the messages are gems, each expertly crafted to align with research and data and resonate with audiences of various literacy levels.

The new edition of the Educational Message Desk Reference is available to download, for free, at www.nfpa.org (go to public education, teaching tools, then educational messaging). The French version will be available shortly.

The updated document includes three new chapters and dozens of new messages, each flagged with a “NEW” label.

The new chapters – fire safety away from home, pet safety, and youth firesetter – were created in response to feedback from national fire-safety organizations and subject-matter experts, fire departments, educators, and other users of NFPA messages.

Messages in other chapters have been updated to reflect the way people live their lives – there are new messages about safety around campfires, fire pits, candles, barbecues, turkey fryers, pools, hot tubs, marinas and boats, and even power tools.

Messaging related to top causes of fire – cooking, smoking and electrical – has been expanded. There is new messaging about what to do after an oven fire, how to properly extinguish smoking materials, and about arc-fault circuit interrupters.

The National Candle Association in the United States provided information that helped to shape the new sections of Chapter 14: General Candle Safety, and 14.2: How To Burn A Candle Safely. 

Sections of the Desk Reference have been enhanced with additional messaging for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, who have mobility challenges, and who experience other disabilities. 

Chapter 5, which used to focus on safety in hotels and motels, is now titled Fire Safety Away From Home and includes messages about hotels/motels, peer-to-peer hospitality, motor homes/campers/RVs, places of public assembly, car fires, and how to prevent car fires.

There’s also new language about calling 911 or emergency services; you’ll see the words “trusted neighbour” in some messages, for example, in Chapter 4, Home Fire Escape: “Make sure everyone in your home knows how to call 9-1-1, or your local emergency number, from a mobile phone or a trusted neighbor’s phone.”

Lastly, remember that the messages are meant to be customized for your target audience. The messages in the <i>Desk Reference<i/> are based on science and data and mirror NFPA’s codes and standards, but they’re a tad dry, and they don’t often fit into 280-character tweets. 

So instead of “Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, boiling, grilling or broiling food,” you can always remind people to “Stand by your pan.” Or, like now-(in)famous FPO Michael Atkins from Welland, Ont., video yourself doing a safety dance to decade-old songs by Lady Gaga and Adele from 2011 and post it all over the internet to encourage people to replace their smoke alarms after 10 years. (Google it – it’s worth it!)  

People are more inclined to change their behaviour if the message is memorable!


Laura King is the NFPA’s public-education representative in Canada; she was the editor of Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter from 2007 to 2017. Contact Laura at canadacrr@nfpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @LauraKingNFPA


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