As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued over the past several months, I, like so many others have been carefully monitoring the data and following recommendations from leading epidemiologists and public health experts for how to keep myself and my family safe from the virus. NFPA has paid particular attention to how to keep our staff safe. And like many of you on the front lines of fire and life safety education, I have also been keeping an eye on the public’s response to this information. What I have noticed is, that while many are following the advice, news reports show many people disregard the reports or refuse to believe what science tells us about the way COVID-19 spreads, and how dangerous the virus can be.
While initially surprised to see repeated warnings from top industry professionals fall on some deaf ears, it is not unlike our ability to effectively reach the public with key fire safety messages. We have seen for a long time a general complacency and “it can’t happen to me” attitude about fire safety. If ignorance of safety information, data, and directives permeate, how do we more effectively get the word out and how can we capitalize on opportunities to deliver credible information that encourages and empowers people to make better, more informed decisions and take action to protect their families, their personal safety, and their homes.
One such way is through Fire Prevention Week. As the longest public health observance on record, Fire Prevention Week is a trusted, established, and long-standing campaign that works as a catalyst for reaching communities with information and recommendations that can easily be understood and integrated into daily life.
In June, NFPA announced that the theme for the 2020 Fire Prevention Week (FPW) campaign, which takes place October 4-10, is “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen.” Its cooking safety message is timely for several reasons. First and foremost, cooking is the leading cause of home fires and is responsible for nearly half (49 percent) of all reported home fires involving cooking equipment, according to recent NFPA research. Moreover, unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires, meaning home cooking fires occur most often when people aren’t keeping a close eye on what they’re cooking. The United States has seen a decrease in fire-related deaths in almost every major category except deaths from home cooking fires. They are, in fact, worse than they were 30 years ago, killing an average of 550 people a year. Sadly, cooking is now the leading cause of both reported home fires and home fire injuries in the U.S. And now at a time when people continue to avoid restaurants for the immediate future and opt instead to do more cooking and entertaining at home, these circumstances collectively create the potential for an increase in home cooking fires.
Getting people to recognize that there is still a home fire risk has been challenging. “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen” works to remind the public that fires can and do still happen. It educates the public about the dangers posed by cooking and the simple but effective actions they can take to keep themselves, and those around them, safe in the kitchen.
No doubt these are challenging times with no easy answers, but our work to help advocate for and implement fire and life safety in our communities is even more crucial than ever before. Less fires means less burden on our first responders. The work we do for Fire Prevention Week is important to the security and well being of communities everywhere. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to recognize and take full advantage of the campaign not just in October, but all year long. Together, by sharing campaign-related resources and information we can help inspire individuals and families to become their own advocates and embrace their personal role in our safety system.
For more information about Fire Prevention Week and this year’s theme, “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen,” in addition to a wealth of resources to help promote the campaign locally, visit our website at nfpa.org/fpw.