National Survey Probes Fire and Life Safety Education

Although 91 percent of fire departments across the country conduct some type of fire and life safety education, some still don't see it as a vital function.

Teaching safety still falls to uniformed firefighters who have other responsibilities, according to preliminary results of a national survey released Thursday at a conference hosted by the Home Safety Council

A study is underway to create a benchmark of current activities, and identify needs for training and resources to enhance programs, said Andrea C. Gielen, director of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Injury Research and Policy.

"Fires and burns are a public health problem," she said, adding that her group has been impressed with what they've seen so far. "We welcome the opportunities for new partnerships with the FLSE community."

Of the 7,408 surveys mailed to volunteer, career and combination departments across the country, 1,000 have been received. Follow-up calls and postcards will be sent to those who haven't responded.

Preliminary statistics show fire prevention activities at elementary schools are still the most popular. However, many departments are engaging in programs for older adults. Among the top topics were fire escape planning; the importance of having smoke alarms; fire extinguisher instruction and burn prevention.

Other findings include:

  • 51 percent distribute or install smoke alarms; Of those, 41 percent use 9-volt batteries; 24 percent, lithium. Other products donated included car safety seats, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke alarms for hearing impaired, fire extinguishers, bike helmets and fire escape ladders.

  • 58 percent promote fire-related laws at the local, state or national levels.

  • 52 percent said FLSE is supplementary to other activities; 36 percent consider it an important part of the department; 8 percent said it was critical and 5 percent voted that it was not important.

  • Not enough funding for FLSE and too many other competing responsibilities were cited as the most significant barriers. Officials also said free materials would help bolster their programs.

The national survey -- backed by a number of national fire service organizations such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Congressional Fire Services Institute and the National Volunteer Fire Council -- is funded by a FIRE Act grant.

"We want to know who is doing FLSE? What types of FLSE are being conducted? How do fire departments perceive FLSE? We also want to know the barriers faced," Gielen said, adding that it's important for departments to return their surveys. "We need to get as much information as possible for the final report. That's why there's a push for data collection."

Home Safety Council President Meri-K Appy said the FLSE network is growing annually. "These talented people are willing to share their terrific programs."

And, networking is what brought 275 educators to Washington, D.C. for the past two days. "I was thrilled by the response, but not surprised. We had a waiting list," she said. "It's been clear for a while that this type of opportunity was needed."

The All-Ways Fire Safe at Home Conference featured various federally-funded programs from around the country. "People got to see what's out there, and possibly adapt it for their community."

Each presenter gave a brief synopsis of their activity, and the impact they've experienced or anticipate. They chose programs that have been evaluated, but Appy said there is no shortage of terrific projects out there.

"We're doing what we can to provide experts, resources and other tools. I see this conference as a beginning not an end."

Dennis Compton, vice chairman HSC board of directors, said the FLSE is just important as the person who answers the alarm. "Everyone in the fire department plays a crucial role. However, that's not always the way it's viewed."

Compton said the conference provided an excellent arena for showcasing the best. "We want to show the feds just how the FIRE Act grant money is being spent."

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