FPW - "It Won't Happen to Me"

Fire Prevention Week - "IT won't happen to me"

Originally posted on October 5, 2020 at kilolimacode.com

Image showing front door and window with flames and smoke

Let’s start with a pop quiz. Take a minute to answer the following questions and consider the answers for each member of your household, as well as your family and friends.

  1. Do you remain in the kitchen and alert while frying, boiling, grilling, or broiling food?

  2. Do you know what to do in the event of a stovetop fire?

  3. Do you test each smoke alarm at least once a month using the test button?

  4. Are all the smoke alarms in your house less than 10 years old?

  5. Do you have a home escape plan?

  6. Do you practice your home escape drill at least twice a year with everyone in your home, during the daytime and night?

  7. Do you charge electronic devices (laptops, cellphones, etc.) on hard surfaces (i.e. not under your pillow, on a bed, or couch)?

  8. Are all major appliances, (refrigerators, stoves, washers, dryers, including spare fridge or freezer) plugged directly into a wall outlet?

  9. Do you ensure that all combustible materials are at least 3 feet away from heating appliances?

  10. Do you clean lint out of the vent pipe or have a dryer lint removal service do it at least once every year?

  11. Does your dryer have a rigid or flexible metal venting (not aluminum foil)?

  12. Do you turn the dryer off if you leave home or when you go to bed?

It won’t happen to me!

I’ll be honest, I answered ‘no’ to some of these questions. I’m confident that you did too. If you are reading this, you are most likely involved in fire protection and life safety industry in some capacity. We deal with fire protection and life safety issues daily. We know that fires occur. And yet, we answered ‘no’ to some basic home fire safety issues. Why? I don’t know exactly. But a couple of factors may be optimism bias, habituation, and/or lack of awareness.

Optimism Bias

Wikipedia defines optimism bias as, “a cognitive bias that causes someone to believe that they themselves are less likely to experience a negative event.” As a fire investigator I have heard, “I never thought it would happen to me” more times that I care to admit.

Nobody believes it will happen to them.

Even if you are careful and attempt to mitigate fire by following safety messages provided by NFPA and other organizations, fires still occur. Fire safety messages are not only intended to prevent fires from happening, but also to reduce the effects of a fire when they occur.


Habituation may be another contributing factor. Oxford Dictionary defines habituation as “the diminishing of physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus.” In a book titled, “Human Behavior in Hazardous Situations”, Dr. Jan Daalmans notes that “all sensory processes are liable to habituation. We constantly lose the freshness of newly learned experiences.” And that “habituation is one of the main reasons why the risk sensitivity at home is so low. A lot of accidents happen in the domestic environment because we are too complacent.” I think back to when I first was first learning to cook. I remember being nervous about turning on the stove and making sure things were away from the elements. And now, I still make sure the elements are clear, but I don’t think twice about turning on the stove and cooking. It’s second nature.

We answered ‘no’ to some of the questions. Take a minute to reflect on how you think your family and friends would do on the quiz? Is it optimism bias, habituation, lack of awareness or maybe some other factor that may result in them practicing some unsafe habits? Maybe turning on the stove and saying, “I’m just going to get my phone from my bedroom. It will only take a minute.” Or “I’m just going to go water the garden while the pan heats up”, or “I’m just going to lie on the couch for a minute.” Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. I’ve heard each of these while interviewing homeowners after a fire.

Home Fire Statistics

In October 2019, NFPA released a research report titled “Home Structure Fires”. The report identifies that there was a dramatic decrease in home fires in the 1980’s but has plateaued over the past 2 decades. Cooking fires accounted for almost half of the reported home fires from 2013 to 2017.

In September 2017, Statistics Canada released a report titled, “Fire Statistics in Canada, Selected Observations from the National Fire Information Database 2005 to 2014”. In this report Statistics Canada noted that there was a downward trend in home fires of 25% from 2005 to 2014. Cooking fires accounted for one third of reported home fires.

While the number of home fires has decreased over time there is more work required to reduce the number of preventable fires. We need to figure out a way to get through to adult audiences and break the cycle of, “it won’t happen to me”. Neil Swidey, author of Trapped Under the Sea notes, “the more people do something without suffering a bad outcome, the harder it becomes for them to remain aware of the risks associated with that behavior.”

Cooking fires in residential occupancies are preventable and represent the largest number of home fires. It is no wonder that the topic of this year’s Fire Prevention Week (FPW) is “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!”

So, what is Fire Prevention Week?

According to Wikipedia, the first national fire prevention day in Canada was in 1919. NFPA has sponsored the observance of fire prevention week since 1922. In Canada, FPW was proclaimed in 1923. FPW occurs every year during the week of October 9th. This week was chosen in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire. If you don’t know about the Great Chicago Fire check out this 7-minute YouTube video. The target audience is kids, but it is informative.

NFPA explains that, “[d]uring Fire Prevention Week, children, adults, and teachers learn how to stay safe in case of a fire. Firefighters provide lifesaving public education in an effort to drastically decrease casualties caused by fires.”

While this is one week of the year, it is months of work for others. NFPA announces the theme in late May or early June every year. That doesn’t mean that the planning starts then. The planning starts long before. But it is not just about the theme, it is also the logistics, and the collaboration with community organizations. As one of my colleagues says, fire safety is not a fire department problem, it is a community problem. So, it will take a community effort to solve the problem. Fire Prevention Week is not a fire department event, it is a community event.

Educate Yourself, Family & Friends

Here are several resources not only for FPW, and not only for fire department personnel. As a mother, father, sister, brother, friend you can play your role in fire safety education. These are all free resources. Take a few minutes to browse some of them. The key messages from the pop quiz are outlined below as are a few NFPA Resources.

If you’re looking for resources in the “new normal” check out Mrs. D’s website! Or seriously, just check out regardless. This website provides a wealth of resources using technology in education. We need to adapt to change, whether it is change in technology, children’s interests, or learning environments. Mrs. D’s website can provide some guidance in adapting. Here are a few examples:

  • CRR: Virtual Training Options for FLSE (Fire and Life Safety Educator)

  • CRR: Documenting Virtual Training for FLSE

  • CRR: Creating Interactive Presentations

  • Using Technology: Taking Education to the Virtual Realm

  • Zoom tips and tricks

  • As well as FlipHunts, Bitmojis, Comic Strip Makers, Canva, BookSnaps, Google slides, Google Sites and Google Drawing

knowfire.ca is a fire safety awareness program for students based out of Canada’s Niagara Region.” If you have kids that have moved away for College or University, or they’ve moved out on their own, check out this website. “We have quick and simple tips that will save lives whether you are a student, property owner, or parent.”

“During a fire, closing the door, could have a potentially life-saving impact.” While you may know this, your friends and family may not. There are several great resources on this website including some great videos, as well as some literature for both children and adults.

If you are a Facebook user check out the group called Fire Life Safety Educators & Coordinators. It is a public group that posts items specific to Community Risk Reduction and FLSE related issues. They have monthly events as well as several downloadable resources. That’s in addition to the posted questions and responses.

Pop Quiz Key Messages

Here are some resources for key messages in the pop quiz:

So now that you know, you know! What are you going to do this week to take action?