A First in Fire Safety

This project could reach those most at risk, save lives.

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 Bernardino, Calif.).

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 students.

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, visit www.homesafetycouncil.org.

This column appears in the January 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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