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With an adult audience we have an automatic barrier to overcome from the second we step in front of them — they don't believe that they need to sit through our presentation. Adults often feel that they know all there is to know about fire safety, and that belief must be challenged from the start in order for a presentation to be effective. A student must be prepared to learn in order for learning to take place; and we call this an "attention gainer." Our "attention gainer" is a verbal interaction with the members of our audience, to draw out from them how they feel about their own fire safety, and then directly challenge that comfort zone with statistics, both local and national. We discuss recent fires (maintaining privacy) and discuss causes. The exchange is on a peer level, from one concerned adult to another, from one concerned parent to another. But just like our middle school programs, these adults need to feel like they are taking an active part in their education, not being lectured.
We use video to stress important points. One, "The Living Room Fire" produced by Underwriters Laboratory, shows a small fire starting in a waste basket that progresses and engulfs a living room. A digital timer in the lower corner shows this occurred in just 2½ minutes. This video challenges the adults' false sense of security about the dynamics of fire and their safety. Most effectively, the smoke detector in the video sounds at 1:55, only 35 seconds from flashover, demonstrating to the adults that they may only have 35 seconds to escape their home when a detector sounds (depending on placement). We leave the video paused at the flashover screen for the remainder of the presentation and refer the audience's attention back to it throughout the presentation as a reminder of how fast and deadly fire can be.
The remainder of the presentation is visual with extension cords melting from being overloaded, power strips with circuit breakers, pans, kitchen mitts, fire extinguishers and heaters, letting the audience get a hands-on as well as visual education about danger areas in their homes. We also show them photos of past fires in their community that were caused by the improper use of these items. We talk about the importance of sleeping with bedroom doors closed, and how to effectively teach their children about fire drills in the home, and what to do if they have a child too young or unable to comprehend the skills of such fire drill.
If they are parents, we challenge their beliefs about their fire safety through the security of their children. An "attention-gainer" tactic is to ask leading questions such as, "Do you think it is important for your children to do fire drills at school? Why?" "Where are your children during the deadliest hours for fire, 10 P.M. to 6 P.M.? Who is responsible for them then?" "Do you have your children exit the home during false smoke detector activations while cooking? Then what do you think they will do at 2 A.M. when there is a real fire and they hear the detector?" as you point to the flashover video. Asking these questions will assist the adults in realizing their need to consider fire safety at home through their own words.
Older adults require a different approach, as most realize their growing limitations and the need to consider personal safety. "Shock and awe" tactics may not be needed with this age group and, in fact, may be counterproductive. What is needed for this age group is some personal-touch customer service.
This group is very sensitive to age relations and independence. Any attempt to lecture to them or talk to them in a manner that does not acknowledge their experienced position in society will not produce the best results. Just displaying your desire to ensure their safety and your department's genuine concern for their well being will go a long way in not only public education, but also public relations.
The Beaufort Fire Department makes it a point to attend every "older-adult" event we are invited to, from organizational breakfasts and dinners to assisting them with "Christmas in July" programs to blood pressure checks. This constant contact and personal connection has been the key for us to effectively deliver our message. Talking about the importance of smoke detectors while sitting down to dinner with a table of "older adults" is just as effective, and many times more so, than an official presentation. Of all our programs, I have found our "older adult" programs to be the most enjoyable and the most rewarding.
We also maintain a smoke detector and fire extinguisher program in which we issue and install both free of charge. As part of our program, we call these same people once a year and offer to check the batteries and fire extinguisher to make sure they are still operational. This lets us go to their homes and talk to them about fire safety; sometimes, we make on-the-spot corrections, with permission. During one such a visit, firefighters noted two recently purchased heavy-duty portable space heaters. The heaters, designed to be placed on hardwood floors, were on the carpet. Upon further investigation, the firefighters found that the heaters had begun to singe the carpet. In yet another situation, an open gallon of kerosene was found next to a running kerosene heater.