Fire Prevention Week: The Importance of Fire Safety Education in Low-Income Communities

Poverty conditions don’t invariably lead to more fires but do present certain risk factors that should be addressed on a community-by-community basis, according to a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) research report published in 2021. The report cites several studies conducted over the last five decades that have made the connection between poverty and elevated fire risk.

“Factors associated with poverty and elevated fire risk include family stability, crowdedness, the percentage of owner-occupied homes, older housing, the proportion of vacant homes, and the ability to speak English,” the report states.

For example, when utilities are shut off in an emergency, families might resort to unsafe practices, such as using candles for light, making unsafe connections to electrical power sources, or using makeshift heating devices. There are safety codes and standards in place to mitigate fire risk, the report notes, but “a variety of factors associated with economic disadvantage can complicate the ability to realize the protections afforded by fire safety codes and standards.”

“Special efforts will be needed to extend these protections to the most vulnerable in society,” the report continues.

Resources to help spread the word about fire safety

Local fire departments, given their unique understanding of local hazards, are a vital fire risk mitigation resource for low-income communities, according to the report. Public and affordable housing organizations can also play a critical role by hosting fire safety programs for parents and children.

For example, NFPA celebrates Fire Prevention Week in October each year with a different educational theme. This year’s theme—Fire Won’t Wait, Plan Your Escape—stresses the importance of planning and practicing a home fire escape plan. NFPA offers numerous free resources and family-friendly activities that housing organizations can leverage to help educate residents year-round, whether it’s through handouts, on-site event ideas, or social media outreach.

Likewise, HAI Group hosts an annual Fire Safety Poster Contest for member housing organizations with the goal of getting young residents engaged in the fire safety conversation.

Focus fire safety education on positive outcomes

Educational interventions can be successful in spreading fire safety knowledge to parents and children, according to the NFPA report, which cites a study in Philadelphia where firefighters conducted home visits with parents to install smoke alarms and provide a home escape plan. Four weeks later, children in those homes were more likely to be aware of the fire escape plan than children in a control group whose homes weren’t visited.

Framing educational messages in a positive light can be more effective for younger and older children, according to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research & Policy. 

"Communicating safety messages by depicting the negative consequences of unsafe behaviors were not as effective as communicating the positive outcomes of safe behavior," the study, funded by NFPA, states. 

The study also found that children learned more when parents discussed safety messaging with them directly, though it's noted that parents often needed guidance to maximize mediation effects. Housing organizations planning to host fire safety education programs should include parents as much as possible. 

To learn more about Fire Prevention Week (October 9-15), visit:

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