But when we teach children about the importance of having working smoke alarms throughout their homes, we’re doing it with the realization that there is only so much they can do alone. Escaping from fire is a dangerous and complex business.
Recently, a fire investigator friend of mine shared a troubling incident in which two young boys died in a home fire, despite having received fire safety instruction in their schools. It turns out that the household smoke alarm was not operable. The boys couldn't escape on their own and their parents were so affected by the smoke they were barely able to get themselves out in time and couldn't help their sons. As tragic and needless as this terrible loss is, it is not rare.
Each time I hear about one of these heart-wrenching stories, I stop and think about public education and what we do right and what we need to do better. Obviously, in this particular case, far too much went wrong, but I hope we can learn from it.
One important lesson is that reaching children is only half the battle. When children receive fire safety instruction at school, they gain important information they can personally and often independently put to use, such as knowing how to dial 9-1-1 and having and practicing a home fire escape plan.
But when we teach children about the importance of having working smoke alarms throughout their homes, we're doing it with the realization that there is only so much they can do alone. Escaping from fire is a dangerous and complex business. In many cases, children will need help to get to safety in time. An added concern is new research that clearly indicates many children do not awaken to the sound of the smoke alarms in their home even when the alarms are present and operable. Parents and caregivers are the point people for the family's safety from fire. Yet too often they are unprepared to assume this vital role.
One of the reasons parents may be missing this message is that many of them cannot read the take-home materials that are being sent home with their kids. According to the most recent findings from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), more than 90 million adults in the U.S. have difficulty reading. About one-third of them read at the lowest level or cannot read English at all.
In the past we took for granted that whatever we sent home with children was put to good use by parents. Now we are beginning to understand that it is a mistake to assume that a letter to parents or a take-home brochure can be easily read and understood by the adults at home. Even material written for a 6th grader is too difficult for tens of millions of adults to read.
As part of the Home Safety Literacy Project , the Home Safety Council is working hard to put life-saving information into the hands of adults who may not be able to read the safety materials that are widely being distributed through fire departments, and likely being sent home with their children. In partnership with ProLiteracy Worldwide and OSU's Fire Protection Publications, we're developing highly illustrated, specially written fire safety and disaster preparedness materials designed for easy reading by adult basic English and English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students, and non-reading adults. Although the materials are primarily meant for use with adults enrolled in literacy programs, when utilized in the mainstream by fire and life safety educators, these unique teaching tools help to ensure that the messages get delivered effectively to more adults.
The fire safety literacy materials we launched last year are available at no charge to you, right now. Beginning next month, we're incorporating disaster preparedness messages and will be making comprehensive kits of the new Home Safety Literacy Project materials available to the fire service and literacy providers; also at no charge. You will be able to access these high quality printed and downloadable kits simply by joining the Home Safety Council's free online resource Expert Network. Visit Home Safety Council