AUTHOR: Andrea Vastis

dog on the porch

Keep your pets fire safe this National Pet Day

April 11 marks #nationalpetday, and this week on social media people are posting pictures of their beloved animals like my Bubba, age 4, pictured here. People often ask about how to include their pets, especially the four-legged ones, as part of their home fire safety plan. The 2020 edition of the NFPA Educational Messages for Fire & Life Safety Desk Reference contains a new Pet Fire Safety chapter featuring key educational messages for use in fire and life safety (FLS) education.  Many of those messages can be found in NFPA’s Pet Fire Safety Tip Sheet, available as a free download with the ability to co-brand for use in FLS education efforts. One key tip to keep your pets safe from fire is by keeping them (and kids!) three feet (1 meter) from stoves/ovens, firepits, and heating appliances. Pets and candles certainly don’t mix, with battery operated flameless candles a much safer option to prevent burns and home fires from. Pets can also be included in home wildfire preparedness plans by building an evacuation kit for each pet in the household and practicing that plan. NFPA’s Pet Wildfire Evacuation Video provides practical tips to prepare pets of all shapes and sizes for evacuation. What to do with pets when planning and practicing Home Fire Escape is a common question. Today’s home fires burn hotter and faster than ever, giving occupants as little as two minutes to get out safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds.  It is of critical importance that all people in the home have a plan for safe escape which includes an outside meeting place. People should not take extra time to search for animals in the home when trying to escape and should never go back into a fire to try and rescue a pet.  Instead let firefighters know if there are any animals still inside. Show your pet some extra love by protecting them from fire and burns this National Pet Day and every day. Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis, Sparky the Fire Dog® on Twitter and Facebook and NFPA on Instagram to keep up with the latest in Fire and Life Safety education.
Sparky in 1951

Not Your Mother’s Stop, Drop, and Roll: Evolution of a Key Fire Safety Message

Few phrases have such a long history in our modern vocabulary as “Stop, Drop, and Roll," developed and promoted in the 1970s to teach people, especially children, what to do if their clothes caught on fire. Back then, teaching Stop, Drop, and Roll (SDR) provided a critical life- saving skill to children and adults, as annually 500 – 750 people died due clothing ignition. A lot has changed since the 70s, especially among children and fire safety. In 2015-2019, there were an annual average 150 clothing ignition home fire deaths, with 6% of the victims under the age of 15, and 75% of those aged 55 and older. While any death is unacceptable, it brings to bear the question of what skills we are teaching and to whom.   Stop, Drop, and Roll has long been a favorite for our Fire and Life Safety (FLS) educators to teach young children –, active, and keeps kids engaged. But is it always the developmentally appropriate thing to teach? A recent NFPA Learn Something New video Is Stop, Drop, and Roll still relevant? discusses the shifts in our fire safety landscape and the context within which SDR belongs.   Those shifts are underscored in the NFPA Report Fire Safety in the U.S. Since 1980, which brings to bear some key points for FLS educators to consider in selecting topics and audiences for their efforts: Fire deaths of children under five have dramatically declined, while home fire deaths of people 65 and older have remained virtually unchanged at about 1 in 3. While there are fewer home fires and fire deaths in the U.S., home fires burn hotter and faster due to synthetic fabrics, lightweight construction materials, and open floor plans, leaving occupants with as little as two minutes to safely escape. Cooking is the only major cause of fire that resulted in more home fires and fire deaths in 2014-2018 than in 1980-1984. At the crux of this discussion is not that we shouldn’t teach SDR, it’s how and when we teach SDR. NFPA’s Know When to Stop, Drop, and Roll lesson plan is part of the core-aligned Learn Not to Burn curriculum. This lesson is for first grade, as children under six are generally not developmentally able to understand the context for when and why to engage in SDR. I’ve had the experience, as have many FLS educators, of asking young children what to do when the smoke alarm sounds, only to have them yell, “Stop, Drop, and Roll!” enthusiastically. The success of this message has become our confounder, unintentionally making it a catch-all response for any fire safety situation. Add to the mix the increased intensity and speed of today’s home fires, and the emphasis for young children (and across the lifespan) must be on recognizing the sound of the smoke alarm and planning and practicing Home Fire Escape. These are the skills that are part of the building blocks, and more likely to be needed by today’s home occupants, making them a primary focus for FLS efforts. Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis, Sparky the Fire Dog® on Twitter and Facebook and NFPA on Instagram to keep up with the latest in Fire and Life Safety education.
cleaning supplies

Include Carbon Monoxide Prevention as Part of Your Spring Cleaning

Social media outlets are full of #Springcleaning tips to prepare your home and wardrobe for the warmer weather.  Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning prevention should be part of that effort.   CO is an odorless, colorless gas emitted from the incomplete combustion of fuel burning appliances such as furnaces, cooking appliances, and portable generators.  If it burns fuel, it produces CO. What to add to your "to do" list? Clean fireplace, wood/fuel burning stove, and other chimneys annually to make sure debris and animals nesting haven’t blocked air flow. Have your furnace and heating equipment inspected annually or according to manufacturer's instructions. Use portable generators OUTDOORS at least 20 feet away from your home, and downwind of open vents or doors. Gas and charcoal grills should only be used outdoors, never indoors or in a garage Take a walk – around your home to check and clean all outdoor vents including the dryer vent. CO is called the silent killer because people cannot smell or see it and the effects of CO mimic flu-like symptoms and make people disoriented.  Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.  For the best protections, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home so that when one sounds, they all sound. NFPA’s Carbon Monoxide Safety Tip sheet also available in Spanish (CO) and Carbon Monoxide Safety Community Toolkit, are available for free download to use in your Fire and Life Safety education efforts.   NFPA’s Educational Messages Desk Reference contains the compilation of key FLS messages related to CO and related fire, burn, and hazard prevention messages so that you can tailor your messaging to your audience.  No matter the season, there’s always a reason to include CO education in your efforts! Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis, Sparky the Fire Dog® on Twitter and Facebook and NFPA on Instagram to keep up with the latest in Fire and Life Safety education.

Learn, network, and engage at the 2022 Spotlight on Public Education Conference

NFPA’s premiere Spotlight on Public Education (SOPE) conference is an exciting and cost-effective way to connect (in person!) with fire & life safety content and professionals from a wide range of specialties.  Now in its sixth year, SOPE takes place Monday and Tuesday, June 6 & 7* at the 2022 NFPA Conference and Expo in Boston, Massachusetts. This “conference within a conference” geared towards fire and life safety (FLS) educators, burn prevention, injury prevention, and public health education professionals, provides professional development and networking opportunities over the course of the 2-day event.   SOPE registration includes: Eight education sessions with a focus on fire and life safety education with available CEU’s Dedicated SOPE lounge area available for networking A seat at general session on Monday, June 6 NFPA ExpoAdvantage™ admission with three-day access to the Expo floor and related benefits *Admission to the “Community Risk Assessment: Leading with Insights” workshop held on Wednesday, June 8 from 8am – noon.  After two years of virtual conferencing, this year’s SOPE will be held in person at the Boston Convention Center located in the exciting Seaport District of Boston, Massachusetts. Featured sessions include: Steps to Safety™: A Community Approach to Preventing Fire and Falls Among Older Adults (hint: an exciting update to the Remembering When™ program!) Fire & Life Safety Educational Messaging in Schools: Best Practices from the NFPA Educational Messages Advisory Committee Best Practices in Youth Fire-setting Education and Intervention—Creating a "No-Fear Zone" Spicing Up Your Fire Prevention Week™ Toolkit The Impact of Drug Use on Fire Risk in General Population and Older Adults Using Virtual Reality to Communicate the Benefits of Home Fire Sprinklers Applying Community Risk Assessment Data in Unexpected and Extraordinary Ways Fire Safety in the United States since 1980 All this for $95 if you REGISTER for Spotlight on Public Education by March 28. Space is limited – Register early! Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and follow Sparky the Fire Dog® on Twitter, Facebook  and NFPA on Instagram to keep up with the latest in Fire and Life Safety education.
See through marble

Meaningful calls to action require clear fire safety messaging

Educational messaging for fire and life safety must be relevant, meaningful, actionable, and above all, accurate.  While it’s helpful to distill messaging into short, memorable phrases (think “get low and go”) it’s critical that the accuracy & clarity of the message isn’t compromised in the process. In other words, we need to ensure that catchy messaging is still effective in driving people to take appropriate action for the intended situation. Such is the case with messaging around the importance of closed doors to slow fire spread, as today’s fires burn hotter and faster due to lightweight construction materials, open floor plans, and synthetic fabrics.  This has more recently prompted fire and life safety educators to ask, “what should we be telling people to do to be safe from fire,” and “which simple catchy phrases are effective?” The value of closed doors as part of fire safety is part of the set of messages laid out in Chapter 4 Home Fire Escape of the 2020 edition of the NFPA Educational Messages Desk Reference for Fire Service and Fire and Life Safety Educators, a compendium of messages combining the latest in fire science, codes, standards, and education principles.  The Desk Reference is developed by the Educational Messages Advisory Committee (EMAC), a multi-disciplinary group of professionals who meet periodically to review NFPA’s fire and burn safety education messages and provide recommendations to the NFPA Public Education staff for updating and revising the messages. Critical to home fire escape planning first and foremost is early warning of a fire, which means working smoke alarms, and enough of them, along with planning of escape routes from the home. It’s the reason why this chapter begins with the following messages: 4.1.1 Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. Larger homes may require additional smoke alarms to provide a minimum level of protection. Make sure everyone in your home knows the sound and understands the warning of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond. 4.1.2 Make a home escape plan. Draw a map of each level of the home. Show all doors and windows. Go to each room and point to the two ways out. Practice the plan with everyone in your household, including visitors. 4.1.3 Children, older adults, and people with disabilities may need assistance to wake up and get out. Make sure that someone will help them. 4.1.4 Teach your children how to escape on their own in case you cannot help them. Make sure they can open windows, remove screens, and unlock doors. The decision to lay out the messages starting with the foundational messages and building upon one another, is intentional on the part of the EMAC.  Fire and Life Safety educators are encouraged to tailor the messages to their audience based on age, prior knowledge, risk, and related social and demographic factors and to use the community vernacular (e.g. “Stand by your pan”).   When developing messages for a broader general audience, these messages should focus on the core message to create a cue to action and be clear to the audience as to what you want them to do and why. The desire to distill messages into a simple memorable phrase is understandable yet must be tempered with clarity and relevance.   For instance, “Hear the beep, get on your feet” makes sense with the visual of a smoke alarm promoting the need to act quickly upon the sound of a smoke alarm.  The Desk Reference does continue with messaging related to the value of a closed door to help slow the spread of fire, with the following messages within the planning (4.1) and practice (4.2) sections of the chapter: 4.1.10 A closed door may slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire. 4.1.11 Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area. For the best protection, make sure all smoke alarms are interconnected. When one smoke alarm sounds, they all sound. 4.1.12 If you sleep with the bedroom door closed, install smoke alarms inside and outside the bedroom. For the best protection, make sure all smoke alarms are interconnected. When one smoke alarm sounds, they all sound… 4.2.3 Practice using different ways out. 4.2.4 Close doors behind you as you leave. 4.2.5 Get out and stay out. Never go back inside for people, pets, or things. 4.2.6 Go to your outside meeting place. 4.2.7 Practice your home fire escape drill at least twice a year with everyone in your home. Practice at night and during the daytime. Notice the focus again on smoke alarms, pairing closed bedroom doors with interconnected smoke alarms to ensure people will be alerted by the sound of the alarm, and not lose precious time because of a door being a barrier to the sound of the alarm. This decision was intentional on the part of the EMAC based upon research conducted by the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation.  The goal of the Door Messaging Strategies: Implications for Detection and Notification  research was to assess the impact of a closed sleeping room door on smoke alarm early notification and home escape in the modern fire environment of homes and evaluate how these findings can inform public education messaging around this issue. The fundamental concern with clarifying door messaging for a general audience is in the balance of the door acting as an obstacle for rapid audible notification of occupants compared to the door serving as a fire barrier to maximize critical escape times. All this led to the decision to link the value of a closed bedroom door with interconnected smoke alarms in the Educational Messages Desk Reference. Fire and Life Safety educators are encouraged to continue to work together to find ways to present this information in a variety of engaging ways across multiple platforms to educate and empower their community members to take action for their home fire safety.    Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division.
Severe lightning storm

Winter storms and portable generators: How to reduce your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

The winter months (Dec – Feb) are the leading months for home fires, with many of these fires caused by cooking, heating, and holiday decorations such as lights, candles, and Christmas trees. Winter storms, bringing snow, heavy rains, and high winds, also carry risk to residents of carbon monoxide exposure from the improper use of portable generators, heating equipment, blocked vents, and faulty heating systems. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is emitted from the fuel burning appliances such as portable generators, fireplaces, wood stoves, and other fuel burning appliances and systems when the fuel does not burn completely. Exposure to low levels of CO over time or high levels in a short period of time can result in illness and death.   CO poisoning is often called the “silent killer” as people are unaware of their exposure, and the effects include dizziness, sleepiness, and headaches.  Portable generators are the leading cause of home non-fire CO deaths followed by heating appliances and systems. Just over half of the all the non-fire CO deaths occur in the months of November through February.  Approximately 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year in the US, with thousands more negatively impacted by low level exposure.  Keys to safe use include: Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas at least 20 feet (7 meters) from all doors, windows, and vent openings. Never use a generator in an attached garage, even with the door open. Place generators so that exhaust fumes can’t enter the home through windows, doors or other openings in the building. The exhaust must be directed away from the building. NFPA's Carbon Monoxide (CO) safety page has resources for Fire and Life Safety (FLS) and injury prevention professionals to use in their community education efforts.  Reminding residents of simple actions like keeping vents clear from snow, making sure the damper is open when using a fireplace, and using portable generators outside (never in the home or garage) are key messages for reducing risk of CO exposure. NFPA’s Educational Messages Desk Reference, updated in 2020, has updated carbon monoxide messaged related to safe use of heating appliances, fireplaces, wood stoves, and portable generators. Carbon monoxide alarms are critical to alert residents of high levels of CO in the home. Any smoke alarm education and messaging should include CO messaging as well.  Key messaging for the public includes: CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive. Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division.
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