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Educating the Public About Fire and Life Safety

A basic precept in the United States is that a person’s home is his or her castle. Accordingly, fire and life safety codes have traditionally been lenient with regard to personal living space. One- and two-family dwellings and even individual apartment units enjoy protection from code enforcement activities. But most fire-related deaths and injuries occur in residential properties, so public fire and life safety education should be one of the more important strategies of a comprehensive prevention program.

Many jurisdictions say that public education is a priority but in fact give it little support. However, more fire departments are coming to understand the value of public education and the effect that it can have on their total protection and prevention effort. They are increasing their resources for this vital function and are seeing positive results.

A modern public education program that strives to reach the general public and change behavior to improve safety consists of two approaches: bringing education into the schools and taking it directly to the public. Bringing fire education into the schools reflects the long held belief that the way to produce lasting results in safety attitudes and behaviors is to reach young children, who will grow up to be safer adults. Going directly to the public with a variety of methods has the same basic goal: to increase knowledge and change behavior so that people are safer. Another decision is whether to deliver the public education program as a stand-alone message or whether to deliver it in partnership with other agencies (and their respective messages).

Conducting a comprehensive public fire and life safety education program means providing true educational opportunities in a variety of settings. Whether in schools, at community meetings, or through marketing outlets, high-quality education must be age appropriate and in a form that will capture interest. It raises the public’s level of consciousness about safety. But to be effective, education efforts must ultimately do more than raise consciousness: they must change the behavior of targeted populations to reduce the risk of, and the losses from, fire and various injuries.

*This section continues with information on education in the schools, targeted public education programs, integrated risk management, and programs to control juvenile fire setting.


Excerpted from Managing Fire and Emergency Services. Read the first excerpt, "Comprehensive Prevention Programs Far, Far Beyond Code Enforcement and Coloring Books," which appeared in the January 10, 2012, issue of Local Government Matters, and "Comprehensive Prevention Programs: Enforcing Fire and Safety Codes," which appeared in the January 24, 2012, issue.

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