Campus Fire Safety/Student views towards fire and burn safety
Student views towards fire and burn safety
A study was commissioned by the People’s Burn Foundation of Indiana in order to learn more about what college-age students know about burn and fire safety. Intuitively, among fire safety educators and professionals, it was felt that there was a significant knowledge gap, but this had never been explored.
Also, with today’s generation, it was important to learn what would be the most effective way to communicate with them about fire and burn safety. Recognizing that this topic is not something that is necessarily “on their radar screen,” it is important to use a medium that they are comfortable with and that will be effective in getting these life-saving messages across to them.
This information was gathered by conducting an online survey and as series of focus groups at schools in Indiana and Massachusetts. In addition, an online, “virtual” focus group was held using Second Life, which was an innovative and creative method of gathering even more input.
It is vitally important to realize that the information being reported in this study is not scientific in nature, but is more anecdotal. It provides a “snapshot” into the minds of today’s college students and can serve as a guide to developing programs.
The 2006-2007 academic year has been the most fatal one on record, with 20 campus-related fire deaths identified by Campus Firewatch. All of the deaths have been in off-campus housing except for two, which occurred in fraternities. Off-campus housing is typically a rented house or apartment and, according to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 2/3 of the students in this country live off-campus.
There are five common factors that have been observed in a number of campus-related fatal fires since January 2000:
• Over 80% of the fires occur in off-campus housing such as rented houses and apartments.
• These occupancies lacked automatic fire sprinklers
• There were missing or disabled smoke alarms
• Careless disposal of smoking materials was a common factor in the fire cause
• Impaired judgment from alcohol consumption played a role
The very same factors that are found in campus-related fires are identical to the problems found in fires at-large throughout the United States.
In other words, the fire safety problem at our nation’s campuses mirrors the fire safety problem throughout society. If we can address the campus fire safety problem, this will have a dramatic impact in the next five, ten or fifteen years in terms of fire safety across the nation as these students graduate and move onward.
The solutions to the problem are well known – education, detection and suppression. However, implementing them effectively and broadly can be a challenge, particularly the educational component.
Across the nation, there is a distinct lack of fire safety education being provided to the public between the ages of 10 and 65. This means that approximately 68% of the population does not receive regular fire safety information that can help to save their lives. So often we are dismayed when an elderly person dies because they did not have a smoke alarm and were smoking while on oxygen. What we’re asking is unreasonable – for a person to change a lifetime of unsafe habits and practices. Wouldn’t it be better to change these when they are younger?
Also, if the fire safety training that we are regularly providing to children is effective, and it has been in place for at least 20 years, shouldn’t today’s college students know what to do? Since they don’t, it would appear that the training either is not effective or it is not being maintained and adapting as they grow older. In other words, the message is not maturing with the audience.
Over 3,700 people die in fires each year, and this number has leveled off without any significant changes foreseen unless we act. To help address the loss of life and property from fire it is critically important to provide effective fire safety education to a challenging demographic – the 18 to 24-year-old student. To be effective in the Internet age, the message and medium needs to be one that will appeal to the students and keep them engaged. Not only will this reduce the loss of life and injury that occurs on a daily basis, but it will also help to reduce property loss and damage as well, today and for the future.
The goal of this survey was not to develop a scientific, statistical analysis of student knowledge of fire and burn safety. Instead, it was a first attempt at ascertaining their level of awareness and to gain a perspective on their attitudes towards these subjects and how much fire and burn safety is a part of their “makeup.” Another part of this project was to determine how today’s generation of students gets their information.
Providing effective education and training to today’s electronic generation is a daunting task, whatever the subject matter. When it is a topic such as burn and fire safety that, admittedly, is not one of the subjects that is within an 18-year-olds “top ten” list, it becomes even more challenging.
The student demographic is one of the most sought-after groups by retailers and marketing organizations. It is a group with a significant amount of disposable cash and, more importantly, they are at an age in their lives when their future habits and buying trends are being formed. According to David Morrison in his book Marketing to the Campus Crowd:
…the college market of today is largely an untapped opportunity…other nonprofit causes should be targeting this audience for the same reason…even if a student is not converted into a volunteer per se, he or she is at least likely to be shaped by merely being a passive observer. This process of installing future attitudes could prove quite beneficial when students assume positions of power…
Most important, even Fortune 500 companies and their advertising/promotion/public relations agencies seeking to alter consumer behavior and attitudes should regard the campus crowd as an indispensable portal to societal change. Whether the topic is organic foods or eco-friendly transportation, the college market is highly receptive to new options to the status quo (let alone actual solutions!) and can function as a catalyst to ultimately shape mainstream usage and attitudes.”
It is possible to adapt the techniques used by some of the most effective marketing firms to that of burn and fire safety, but it is vitally important to know more about this demographic. What they think and what they know (or don’t know) about this subject will help to determine the shape of the message. It is also equally important to know more about how they get their information in this electronic age so it can be delivered effectively.
To accomplish this, the People’s Burn Foundation and Campus Firewatch teamed up to conduct a series of focus groups, both in real-time and virtually, along with an online survey of students across the nation. This unprecedented project was designed to provide a “first look” at student’s knowledge and attitudes and serve as a stepping stone for future, more detailed and in-depth studies.
Lack of knowledge
The respondents in this study have a significant lack of knowledge when it comes to burn and fire safety. This was not only demonstrated in the answers to their questions but also by the participants, themselves, admitting their lack of knowledge. This points, not so much to a failure on the part of the student, but that of the fire safety community at large to develop and deliver programs targeting this demographic. Much of the nation’s fire prevention efforts are targeted at the very young and the elderly, leaving a large gap in the middle that routinely do not receive burn and fire safety information. This is an unprecedented opportunity to change the future of fire safety across the nation by teaching this “captive” demographic what they need to know.
Thirst for more knowledge
In realizing that they lacked this knowledge, many of the participants voiced the desire to learn more about how to avoid burns and fires and what to do if one should occur. They want to know more and we should rise to the call.
Delivering burn and fire safety information to this demographic in an effective manner is the challenge. They want to be entertained and engaged, and that is what they have come to expect in an age of youtube.com and cable television. The messages don’t necessarily change (change your battery in your smoke alarm, for example), but how it is delivered can make all of the difference.
This is probably the most challenging part of the problem. The solutions are known and have been known for many years. Changing people’s behavior has always been the difficult part of the solution. However, with the advent of the Internet, this provides an unequalled opportunity to reach large masses of people quickly, effectively and cost efficiently. However, it has to be done right – simply putting up a web page is not the solution. A multi-faceted approach is needed that involves using multiple platforms, media and opportunities. Today’s students are expecting to be entertained and engaged and for a burn and fire safety education program to be effective it must meet both of these criteria.
It is also important to provide a motive, an incentive, for students to take part in burn and fire safety education programs. Some of it they will do simply because it is fun or different (putting out live fires with a fire extinguisher). Other times, by offering them the chance to win a prize through a raffle by taking part in a focus group or class, or providing them with access to download songs over the Internet are effective strategies. A number of students told us that a certificate for a free cup of coffee in return for watching a short online video would be enough motivation. In other words, the threshold to get them involved is not necessarily a high one.