Startling Statistics Can Help Educate Your Community

By John Kolb, FASNY Fire Prevention and Life Safety Committee

When fire departments start looking at creating a fire prevention presentation or program, they must first determine what message they want to deliver to the public. Your audience will be your guide. Use what you know from experience, whether it be from the fires you respond to or discoveries you’ve made in your own surroundings: home, work and recreation.

There are a number of influential statistics that you should share with the public.

For example, there are more than 360,000 house fires annually, which cause approximately 2,570 deaths and over 13,000 injuries. Look at the most common causes of these fires. Almost 80 percent of the deaths are caused by fires that begin within the home: in the kitchen, living room and bedrooms.

The leading cause of kitchen fires is cooking equipment and close to half of all house fires start in the kitchen. Take this subject and roll with it! You can stress the importance of not leaving the kitchen when you are cooking, keeping those pan handles turned away from the front of the stove, leaving flammable items near the stove and the danger of wearing loose clothing that could easily ignite.

The next leading cause of interior house fires is from heating equipment: central heating units, portable heaters, fireplaces and chimneys. Explain the importance of maintenance for all of these items. Make sure fireplaces and chimneys have been cleaned out and freed from the buildup of creosote. Portable heaters should be safely placed away from flammable items.

Finally, 7 percent of home fires have occurred in a bedroom. This is a great opportunity to stress how important it is to have an escape plan … and to practice it! Teach the practice of rolling out of bed to keep low and how to check the bedroom door to tell whether or not it is safe to open it. Are there escape ladders for those second-floor windows? Give your audience things to think about.

There are other areas of the home that can be discussed, such as laundry areas. Almost everyone has most likely heard of dryer fires. Use this to remind them to clean lint traps after each load of laundry to prevent a buildup that could ignite.

What dangerous chemicals are being stored in your basement or garage? Are there any fire extinguishers placed around these areas?

There are now requirements to have 10-year smoke alarms in homes. This is a great opportunity to establish a community-wide effort with local organizations to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms as a public service for fire prevention.

The bottom line is that fire prevention education is not just about visiting your local school during Fire Prevention Week each year.

So, roll up your sleeves and apply what you already know as a firefighter to get fire prevention messages out to your community. For more inspiration, check out www.preventfiresny.com and browse the many resources available.