Home Safety Council Awarded Fire Act Grant to Launch National Fire Safety Literacy Program

Washington, D.C. – The Home Safety Council, a national nonprofit organization, has received a federal grant of $629,902 to carry out a home fire safety campaign designed to reach adults with low literacy skills. The campaign will utilize easy-to-read fire safety materials and will include the guided installation of free smoke alarms in the homes of participants.

Some 90 million adults in the U.S. have low reading ability, a serious barrier to learning necessary home fire safety skills and to understanding and applying key fire protection measures in the home, such as installing and maintaining adequate smoke alarm protection.

The Home Safety Council Fire Safety Literacy Program is funded through a 2003 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) United States Fire Administration (USFA). The program partnership includes HSC, ProLiteracy Worldwide, and Oklahoma State University’s Fire Protection Publications (FPP) and will be carried out locally with the cooperation and participation of the nation’s fire departments.

“The fire service challenge of communicating safety messages to people with varying reading levels cannot be overstated,” says Home Safety Council President Meri-K Appy. “We know that simply translating safety advice into other languages leaves a gap that almost certainly neglects a large segment of the public. The Fire Safety Literacy Program bridges that gap by connecting the fire service with local literacy providers through a systematic community outreach and education program.”

The program’s uncommon approach pairs these two parties in a powerful community team. The fire department partner will deliver greatly needed home fire safety messages and oversee the installation of free home smoke alarms. The literacy partner will provide the learning opportunity to present fire safety messages and ensure they reach the people who need the information most — in an appropriate format they can read, understand, and put to use.

ProLiteracy staff tested a sampling of current public fire safety materials against the Gunning-Fox Index readability measure and determined that messages commonly used by U.S. fire departments are written at a 6th-11th grade reading level. “That’s well beyond what 90 million adults in the U.S. can read,” said Linda Church, ProLiteracy associate director of special projects. “Not only do we need instructional materials that can be easily understood by low-level readers, we also need a structured and targeted program to make sure they receive this life-saving information.”

Among the program deliverables will be smoke alarms and a Fire Safety Literacy Kit provided at no charge through the Home Safety Council’s Expert Network, an online resource serving fire and life safety professionals in the U.S. (http://www.homesafetycouncil.org/expertnetwork). The Kit will include program guidance for training literacy tutors and fire service educators, as well as illustrated instructional materials developed specifically to teach basic fire safety measures to adult students.

“The United States has an unacceptable death and injury rate due to fire,” says USFA Administrator R. David Paulison. “President Bush and DHS Secretary Ridge have made it clear, homeland security starts at home. Our nation needs effective public private partnerships like this to identify and reach American homes lacking smoke alarms and basic fire safety education.”

The Fire Safety Literacy Program will begin with a pilot test conducted in urban and rural areas in the United States.

For more information, visit www.homesafetycouncil.org.

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