Our Focus » Awareness of fire safety

The awareness of fire safety
For the most part, fires are caused by human actions. People being aware of their responsibilities regarding fire safety is therefore of the utmost importance. Whether people are able to leave the building or their home safely in time in the event of a fire also depends on their actions. If people act fire safe, the chances of a fire breaking out are reduced. And when a fire does break out, people knowing how to act decreases the chance of people getting hurt or dying.

The role of education in fire safety in the residential environment is, thus, extremely important because, in the end, people make the difference. Technical fire safety is, of course, very important but it is people who have to safely use the equipment and products, who have to close fire doors, and who have to respond to a smoke detector in case of a fire breaking out, etc. The social dimension of fire safety is therefore not to be underestimated.

Fire hazards in the residential environment cause deaths, (disabling) injuries and hospital visits that could have been avoided through behavioural and environmental modifications. Unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness about household safety practices and procedures. Many adults are not aware of how to minimise the fire risk in their homes, something which is reason enough to raise the awareness about home safety hazards and to teach people fire safety techniques to prevent fires from breaking out. It is also crucial that people know how to react effectively in the stressful situation whenever a fire occurs, something which is essential for their survival.

Who are most at risk?
As stated in focus area 1, it is known that elderly people, people who are less self-reliant due to a mental or physical disability and children are the most vulnerable groups of people when it comes to fire. Information and education must, therefore, be specifically aimed at improving the safety of these high-risk groups. However, other citizens must not be forgotten as they also need to be properly informed and educated about fire safety.

However, considering that almost all residential fires are preventable, the numbers of casualties are still too high. Naturally, the safest method of dealing with residential fires is to take measures to prevent them. This is worth a considerable investment in education to realise. Such fire safety awareness and knowledge should start very early. Children of all ages must know what to do because, for years, fire has been among the mains causes of home injury or death in the demographic group of children 15 years and younger .

What should we focus on?
Since the 1990s, the Community Fire Safety system has spread from the United Kingdom to continental Europe. In more and more countries, fire safety is no longer only achieved through permits, supervision and enforcement in non-living buildings. Through the Community Fire Safety system, fire safety is also promoted by focusing directly on residents. Thanks to a large range of activities, the number of home fires, and the casualties of such fires appears to be slowly but surely decreasing. Community fire safety projects in, for example, the United Kingdom (UK), the Netherlands and Estonia have already shown this. Also outside Europe, more and more initiatives are being implemented to increase awareness, such as ‘close before you doze’ .

To help further decrease these numbers, Community Fire Safety should receive more support from national governments and the EU. Governments should support or even control the implementation of this system. Doing so will ensure more fire safety gains.

In the many examples of activities in the field of Community Fire Safety, it can be seen that there is currently no insight into which activities are (proven to be) effective and which are not. Therefore, more insight into the effectiveness and methods for measuring effectiveness should be developed. And as Community Fire Safety is now increasingly becoming a fully-fledged (and perhaps the most important) part of fire safety, scientific insights into how the fire-safe behaviour of people can be influenced is of paramount importance.

How do we improve awareness of fire safety?
To improve awareness of fire safety, the Community Fire Safety system must be the central approach. This must be done through its daily implementation not only by governments and Fire Rescue Services, but also by national and European fire safety campaigns. For Community Fire Safety to be successful, a system must be implemented to measure its effectiveness. Moreover, more scientific research must be conducted into how the fire-safe behaviour of people can be positively influenced.