A First in Fire Safety
This project could reach those most at risk, save lives.
- By Jerry Laws
- Jan 01, 2005
YOU know something about assessing risk. Try this: Who is at highest risk of
dying or being injured in a fire at home? More than 3,000 Americans die in home
fires each year. Although 95 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke
detector, the National Fire Protection Association estimates 70 percent of
residential fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms, and nearly
one-quarter of home fires occur in residences with alarms that don't work.
Who are these people? How can they learn enough about fire safety to save
themselves and their loved ones? For starters, they may be unable to read or
understand this magazine. And they may be reachable through a unique effort, the
National Fire Safety Literacy Project, which will complete its pilot training in
seven communities next month (Montgomery County, Md; Washington, D.C.; Palm
Beach County, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Poteau, Okla.; Plano, Texas; and San
The Home Safety Council is using a $629,000 FIRE Act grant on the project (it
matched one-third of the grant) and hopes to implement it nationally soon. Its
partners include ProLiteracy Worldwide and Oklahoma State University's Fire
Protection Publications; Kidde has donated 10-year smoke alarms that are being
installed by fire departments in the homes of participating literacy
Literacy teachers' participation is vital, said Council President Meri-K
Appy. The germ of the project was born when Appy, realizing 90 million Americans
read at sixth grade level or lower, had standard fire safety education materials
and the council's own publications analyzed. They were written from sixth to
11th grade reading levels. For the first time, the project has teamed literacy
training with safety education, with smoke alarm and home escape materials
written in ways adult literacy trainers can use.
"We really want to get into these high-risk homes, these hard-to-reach
homes," Appy said. "That's the kind of project we like, that really threads the
needle into the hardest-to-reach homes."
Low literacy hasn't been directly correlated with fire risk, but poverty and
low education have, Appy said. The council says adult literacy learners also are
important because they frequently care for older adults and young children, who
are known to be at high risk. "If you're low income and we're not communicating
with you with our standard efforts, it's up to us to find non-traditional ways
to reach you," Appy reasoned.
The council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Started in 1993 by Lowe's,
it completed its second authoritative "The State of Home Safety in America"
report last year. To learn more about the project and its other activities,
This column appears in the January 2005 issue of Occupational Health &
This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.