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Wheelchair imageFor years, disabilities advocates have pushed for society to make better word choices when communicating about people with disabilities. While there are clear signs of progress, this headline, which appeared recently in The New York Times, provides an example of the work that still needs to be done:

“Device Offers Partial Vision for the Blind”

Linda Woodbury is chair of the Public Education Division’s Fire Safety for People with Disabilities Task Force, which advises NFPA on developing fire safety educational materials to ensure that they depict people with disabilities in a positive and correct manner. The task force also reviews existing NFPA educational materials for sensitivity, accuracy, and inclusiveness of people with disabilities. Woodbury says the language in The New York Times headline borders on being insensitive and rude.

“When ‘the blind’ is used, it sounds like we are discussing a group of people, all of whom are alike. It’s like calling people who are overweight ‘the fat,' she said. “I’m a person with a heart, likes and dislikes. I also happen to be blind. The most appropriate term to use is ‘people who are blind’ or a ‘person who is blind.”

Woodbury’s suggested choice of phrasing is an example of ‘people first’ language, in which the person is emphasized, not the disability. By placing the person first, the disability is no longer the primary, defining characteristic of the individual, but one of several aspects of the whole person. This headline recently appeared in several Georgia media outlets’ online news stories and social networking sites:

“Sumner wheelchair bound teen, family escapes fire”

“Of the thousands of people I know who use wheelchairs, none of them are ‘bound’ to that chair,” Woodbury said. “The word ‘bound’ brings forth a picture of a human who is tied or somehow shackled into a chair like a prisoner. However, even those who must remain in their chair all day are moved or make their own transfer to the bed, the car. Better to say, “He uses a wheelchair.”

The language we use, whether in news coverage, advertising, or informal conversation, shapes the perception of that group. Our words drive social policy and laws, influence decisions, and affect people’s daily lives. How we use our words makes a difference.

Emergency EvacuationI had a media call last week from a reporter who wanted to know what information we had on school fire drills for students with disabilities - especially those students in wheelchairs. NFPA has created a guide to help students with disabilities, teachers, administrators, parents, and others look
at some of the issues that are relevant to a student’s ability to evacuate a building in the event of an emergency. Preplanning emergency evacuation for every student with a disability should be as important as the language arts support the child requires in order to reach his or her full potential. Every parent of a child with an IEP (Individual Education Program) should print out Personal Emergency Evacuation Planning Tool for School Students with Disabilities (when you go to this link, scroll down the page to "For public educators" and you will find the student planning guide), bring it to your school and have your child's IEP team complete the guide. The guide provides a checklist that includes the student’s personal evacuation plan. Things included are the student’s schedule (day, time, room), emergency notification device needs, a plan to evacuate the student from the building, type of assistance needed, assistants assigned to help the student and information on service animal needs.

This guide should be completed for every student with an IEP and become part of the student’s program which is reviewed at least once a year. In addition to parents advocating for inclusion of this guide in a student’s IEP, the local fire department can play an important role. I challenge fire departments to meet with school officials, provide a copy of Personal Emergency Evacuation Planning Tool for School Students with Disabilities (when you go to this link, scroll down the page to "For public educators" and you will find the student planning guide) and encourage the school system to include this important information as part of every student’s education plan.

Let me know if you are able to make evacuation planning available for every child who receives special education and related services.

NFPA joins forces with Cupcake Digital, the creators of the new Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! app to offer fire safety tips to kids and families.

The app, Wubbzy’s Fire Engine Adventure, is based on episodes of the Emmy-winning Nick Jr. TV series “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!.” In this story, after a mishap at the Spaghetti and Meatball Factory, Wubbzy Sparky_wow
jumps into his toy fire engine to help save the day, but soon learns that it’s best to leave emergencies to the firefighters. The playful app also includes important fire safety tips from the NFPA and Sparky the Fire Dog®, and is available  on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Barnes & Noble for the introductory price of $1.99 (full price is $2.99).

 "NFPA is pleased to join Cupcake Digital to educate children and their families on fire safety," said Judy Comoletti, NFPA's division manager - public education. "In today's world, where children learn in so many different ways, this terrific interactive format provides an engaging, fun way to impart life-saving information."

Check it out and let us know what you think.

When conducting focus groups among ministers serving people in a  high-risk to fire community in Memphis, the public education division  learned that ministers would be willing to have a fire safety educator  or firefighter give a fire safety presentation to the congregation  during the actual service.  

This is a 10-minute presentation that can be  given by fire safety educators or firefighters at a place of worship.  (It would also be fitting for a community meeting.)  

The presentation focuses only on the most important prevention, smoke  alarm, and escape information. You can add local statistics and a  personal experience. Download the presentation. (PDF, 411 KB) and DogOnly one day remains before the deadline to apply for the 2013 Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award. Applications must be received by the close of business on Friday, February 22. Applications can be sent by FAX, email, or traditional mail. Dayna Hilton, the 2009 Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year, has two words for potential applicants: “Apply today!”

Hilton received a $1,000 honorarium and an award which was presented to her at the general session of the NFPA Conference in Chicago. Her fire department, Johnson County RFD #1 in Clarksville, Arkansas, received a $1,000 award to enhance its fire and life safety efforts.

“The $1,000 was a huge benefit to our department’s fire prevention program and will help sustain projects for several years, which wouldn’t have happened without the funding,” she said.

Hilton said being recognized helped raise awareness of fire safety in general. “The award was mentioned on the floor of Congress, shown on C-Span, mentioned on the floor of the Arkansas House of Representatives, and even in my hometown.”

She said the award had a larger impact on her and her community than she imagined. “It’s an honor, but more importantly, it can bring awareness to the importance of fire safety and all the hard work that you and your department do to help keep the community safe.”

Photo courtesy of PBS KIDS Sprout

LNTBLevel1CoverOur Learn Not to Burn (LNTB) program has gotten another update, this time for teaching first grade students about fire safety basics.

While the preschool program remains, this slightly older-oriented version incorporates video in place of songs and includes six lesson plans. They address identifying and avoiding emergency situations, as well as how to react if they do occur.

LNTB Level 1 can be taught as an individual, short course, or combined with an existing language arts course. Teacher information, teaching points, objectives, materials and step-by-step plans for each lesson are built into the program. Since the lesson plans for each topic are written by certified classroom teachers, and meet many common core standards for language arts, they fit easily into the curriculum.

The multimedia component sparks the same enthusiasm for elementary school students that the music does for preschoolers, and kids tend to bring that energy home with them.

Like the original LNTB program, the update is meant to continue on into and benefit the students’ households. A letter with safety information, and a fire safety family activity, connects the home with what was learned in the classroom.

All six lessons are available for free at NFPA’s website. For more information about LNTB and other public safety initiatives, visit

Happy Valentine's Day! Believe it or not, it is one of my favorite holidays. As a mother of three boys, I get wonderful handmade Valentine's from everyone. The boys and I sent our new Sparky e-card to all of our family and friends last night to let them how much they mean to us and also to remind them to TEST THEIR SMOKE ALARMS! Did you send your Sparky Valentine yet?

One of our very own Public Education Network representatives had a house fire this year and is experiencing firsthand the complexity and devastation of a post-blaze situation.  After his own home caught on fire, Tim Szymanski, public information officer for Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, says he will have more empathy for victims of house fires. 

“I’ve never had to go through this mess before. Unless you’ve experienced a home fire, you have no idea about all the hoops -- the insurance and the accommodations -- it’s very complex. A whole different world than seeing it from the outside.”

The next time Szymanski arrives at a house fire, he knows what he is going to do differently. “For one, I’m going to have even more empathy than I’ve had in the past,” he said.

Szymanski knew he had the opportunity for a teaching experience.  “When I’m not dealing with the media, I’m out in public and at schools, instructing the public how to be safe.”  Tim invited the media into his home so they could see the aftermath of a house fire.  He used this time with the media to share fire safety messages.

Tim Szymanski
Click here to read more about Szymanski’s experience in this Los Angeles Times news article.

Deaf Signing Baltazar
Gary Olsen (top) has a message to share with the public about the importance of making a home fire drill plan. Olsen, a member of the Public Education Division Fire Safety for People with Disabilities Task Force and president of the Nevada Association of the Deaf, has made a public service announcement using American Sign Language. The PSA also includes open captioning and a voice-over translation by ASL interpreter Bruce Baltazar. 

 The Task Force advises the Public Education Division on developing new fire safety educational materials, such as the PSA, to ensure the inclusion of fire and life safety messages for people with disabilities. The task force also seeks to ensure that fire safety educational materials depict people with disabilities in a positive and correct manner, and reviews existing educational materials for sensitivity, accuracy, and inclusiveness of people with disabilities. The video is the latest in NFPA’s library of video PSAs.!|src=|alt=Beverly Head Shot with Fire Dept Seal|style=margin: 0px 0px 5px 5px;|title=Beverly Head Shot with Fire Dept Seal|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a00d8351b9f3453ef017d40f5b63e970c!</a>For Beverly Thompson, community education specialist for Dekalb County Fire and Rescue in Dekalb County, Georgia, being chosen the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year in 2010 was, in her words, “like winning the Academy Award” of fire and life safety educators.

“It was a huge benefit to me and the other educators I work with,” she said. “Our department was undergoing some changes at that time, with a new fire chief, major budget cuts, and talks of completely cutting out the public education unit. This recognition allowed not only the citizens of DeKalb County but our own personnel an opportunity to take a closer look at the work and knowledge we provide through public education. I’m proud to say we’re still here.”

As part of her award, Thompson was flown to the NFPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas to be recognized during a presentation at the general session. She received a $1,000 honorarium, and her fire department received a $1,000 donation to support its public education activities.

“Winning the monetary award for my department in a time of heavy budget cuts was fantastic,” she said. “The money was applied toward our fire prevention festival in October, which meant we didn’t have to cancel the festival; it allowed us to continue to reach the community.”

Thompson encourages public educators to apply for the award and for colleagues not to hesitate to nominate the public educator.

“I was a skeptic, coming up with excuses not to apply, such as I didn’t have time, I didn’t want to bother others and ask them to write a letter on my behalf, and if I didn’t win everyone would know. But I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong. It turned out to be was an opportunity beyond my dreams.”

The application deadline for 2013 Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award is February 22.


The Boston area was hit with a blizzard that left hundreds of thousands without power. It made me think of the importance of reminding people about carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels burn incompletely. Make sure your home has carbon monoxide alarms on every level and outside each sleeping area. Test them monthly to be sure they are working. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Have fuel-burning heating equipment and chimneys inspected each year.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • A generator should be sued in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills should only be used outside.
  • Crack a window for fresh air when using a fireplace, wood or pellett stove.

NFPA offers safety tips sheets on carbon monoxide, portable fireplace, heating, grilling and generator safety. Check out all our safety tips sheets.

HeatingTipSheetOn my way home from NFPA's offices yesterday, I nearly dropped my smart phone while reading an email from my landlord, titled "fire safety":

Almost every day I see a house fire on the news due to improper use of extension cords and/or space heaters. Most of these homes did not have working smoke & fire detectors.

Please be careful with space heaters and fireplaces, and do not overload electrical circuits. Also, check your smoke detectors to make sure they are working, if not, let me know.

Thanks and please be safe,

Read this entire post by Fred Durso, staff writer for NFPA Journal.

This Friday, February 8th, is the deadline to apply for the Rolf H. Jensen Memorial Public Education Grant. The $5,000 grant is presented annually to a local fire department to support a community-wide fire and life safety education program or campaign. Funded by the RJA Group, the $5,000 grant is open to any fire department–career or volunteer–in the U.S. or Canada. Applications are due by the close of business on February 8th.

The Korean Fire Protection Association (KFPA) sent Seung-Li Ahn to the National Fire Protection Association in 2011 on an international fellowship to work with the Public Education Division to learn about successful public education programs and effective education techniques.&#0160; Ahn shared the knowledge and experience that he gained from the public education staff with his colleagues in South Korea when he returned home.&#0160; Here are a few of the accomplishments of KFPA in the past year that resulted from the fellowship:&#0160;
• Participation in a campaign for health and safety for older adults called “Love to Senior Citizens Living Alone.”   This campaign led to ongoing work with the ministry of welfare and health to increase safety education among older adults.
• Launching of a safety education program for children. Educators hired by KFPA led the educational activities.
• Creation of a partnership with Safe Living Citizens Alliance, an organization of volunteer educators. KFPA trains their volunteer educators and provides them with educational materials.
 “It's just the first year, and I believe we will prevail in public education, in (South) Korea, thanks to your help,”  Ahn said in reference to NFPA.

!|src=|alt=DSC_0349|title=DSC_0349|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a00d8351b9f3453ef017d40cd380e970c!

Educators in KFPA training session

!|src=|alt=Seung-Li_Ahn, Derrick Phillips, sharon Gamache exchange pub ed strategy_KFPA_Public eduation staff|title=Seung-Li_Ahn, Derrick Phillips, sharon Gamache exchange pub ed strategy_KFPA_Public eduation staff|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a00d8351b9f3453ef017c369ebc26970b!

Seung_il Ahn, KFPA; Deputy Chief Derrick Sawyer, Philadelphia Fire Department, and Sharon Gamache, Program Director, High-Risk Outreach Programs, Public Education, NFPA, strategize with public education staff at KFPA offices in Seoul, South Korea



Outreach_240Did you happen to read Amy LeBeau’s Outreach article in the January/February issue of NFPA Journal? “Close to Home” focuses on the importance of replacing smoke alarms every 10 years. She tells the story of a friend who had a fire and the smoke alarms did not sound – the alarms were over 10 years old. Amy uses this as an opportunity to get important smoke alarm messages out to readers. She has also set a challenge asking everyone reading the article to reach out to 10 people with this information. Are you up for the challenge?

Tomorrow is February 2, and that means Groundhog Day. It is one of those little holidays I like celebrating with the kids. No pressure, just a fun event. We make groundhog shaped cookies and play a fun groundhog bingo I found on the web a few years back, and of course a shadow puppet show. GHDbadgeLarge

Check out this month's Crack the Code on for a hidden message about groundhogs! To download the PDF just scroll all the way down the Cool to Do page. Have fun. Fingers crossed that Spring is just around the corner.

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