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Tailored fire safety interventions targeting older adults

Older adults (65+) face an increased risk of injury or fatality in domestic home fires. The ageing population, combined with the expectation that more people will continue to live independently instead of moving to a residential care home or nursing home, emphasizes the need to focus on promoting fire safety behaviours in this age group.

In general, current fire safety programmes focus on either taking preventive technological measures (e.g., installing smoke alarms) or planning escape routes. It is necessary to develop home fire safety programmes that also focus on preventive safety behaviours, e.g., safe cooking, since these behaviours are common fire causes among older adults. Furthermore, current programmes aim to increase knowledge, awareness, and risk perceptions to promote fire safe behaviours, assuming that these determinants influence these behaviours. However, little is known about the effect of these programmes.

Needs assessment
As a first step, a needs assessment regarding fire safety behaviour was conducted among 4400 older adults. Interviews and an online questionnaire were used to provide insight into 1) current knowledge about fire safety, 2) current fire safety behaviour, and 3) identify the most important predictors of fire safety behaviours among older adults. The findings showed that older adults lack detailed knowledge about risk behaviours that might cause a fire. Their knowledge is limited to sources of fire or moments at which a fire can occur. Furthermore, determinants that showed the strongest associations with fire safety behaviours were perceived behavioural control, attitude and response efficacy. These determinants are important target variables for future interventions promoting fire safe behaviour among older adults.

The Fire Safety at Home programme
Based on the input of the needs assessment, the Fire Safety at Home programme was developed. In this interactive educational programme, participants perform different assignments to understand and practice fire safety behaviours. The assignments focus on four common fire causes among older adults: cooking, charging electronical devices, connecting power strips and the dryer lint filter. In every assignment, there is room for discussion and interaction among the participants. Furthermore, it is discussed what participants can do in their own homes to improve fire safety.

Effect measurement
The impact of the Fire Safety at Home programme was evaluated and compared with fire safety programmes given by the Dutch Fire Service. The results showed intervention effects on three of the four measured fire safety behaviours (connecting power strips, placing a phone or iPad on a sofa or chair while charging, and cleaning the dryer lint filter).

This means that the developed Fire Safety at Home programme had more effect on positively influencing these behaviours than current fire safety programmes. Besides, the Fire Safety at Home programme had more effect on influencing attitude towards home fire safety, and risk perceptions.

In conclusion, this research has effectively highlighted the need for tailored fire safety interventions targeting older adults, acknowledging their susceptibility to domestic home fires. By using Intervention Mapping, this research not only identified key determinants influencing fire safety behaviours but also successfully developed and evaluated the Fire Safety at Home programme. The findings underscore the importance of addressing specific behaviours and determinants for meaningful changes in fire safety practices.

The dissertation will be published on June 4th 2024 here. A public friendly version of the dissertation in English will be published on the same website in the autumn of 2024.

About the research:
Margo Karemaker, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Public Safety (NIPV), conducted a PhD-research which aimed to develop a behavioural intervention to improve home fire safety behaviour among older adults. Using Intervention Mapping, a systematic programme development process was followed based on theory and empirical evidence.

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