Poverty and Fire Injury Go Hand-in-Hand

BRISTOL, VA -- The region around Bristol Virginia has been experiencing a declining economy and a low per capita income, with 21 percent of their citizens living below poverty level.

Studies show poverty is the single most important factor related to unintentional injuries in children1. According to the US Fire Administration, fires and burns were the third leading cause of unintentional fatal injuries to children 14 or younger. In addition, children from low-income families have been found to be five times more likely to die in a fire.2

Because of the increased risk due to socioeconomic factors and an increased incidence of fire deaths and injuries to children in Bristol and the surrounding area, the Bristol Virginia Fire Department decided to apply for a Fire Prevention and Safety Grant.

An 11-year-old boy and his 9-year-old sister learned about escaping through a window from the F.I.R.E. Safety House presentation by the Bristol Fire Department.

The Bristol Fire Department was awarded funding to purchase a fire safety trailer in 2002 to support their fire prevention initiatives.

Utilizing this trailer, the Department created the Fire Safety is Real Educational (F.I.R.E.) Program as an educational outreach to teach children 14 and younger about environmental, weather, stranger and fire safety issues. It has evolved into a wonderful partnership with surrounding communities and stakeholders as an educational tool that reaches all age groups.

Since its inception in 2002, approximately 8,356 children and an additional 4,725 adults have benefited from the F.I.R.E. program funded by the FPS grant. The biggest success is when the safety messages result in saved lives.

On September 11, 2006, there was a residential fire at on Texas Avenue in Bristol, Virginia. The 11-year old boy and his 9-year-old sister escaped through a window after hearing the smoke detector. The young boy stated he had learned about this method of escape at his school when the Bristol Fire Department brought the Safety House to his school for a presentation. The entire family escaped safely, though the home sustained extensive fire and smoke damage.

The Safety House travels to several surrounding counties to visit elementary schools, fairs, festivals, fire department open houses and other special events, like the one held at the Bristol Motor Speedway.

Programs for younger children are broken down by age group. Pre-K programs teach about exit drills and the sound of detectors. First and second graders also learn about Stop, Drop and Roll and calling 911. Third and fourth graders learn about kitchen safety and not touching firearms, in addition to all the things the younger children learn. Older children learn about weather safety and fire extinguishers. The curriculum is based on the Virginia Standards of Learning and grade appropriate to each age group. This curriculum supports the effective teaching of safety practices and allows staff to emphasize points like going home and practicing the EDITH drill with their parents' involvement.

All of these presentations are preempted by a community needs assessment to target parts of the safety presentation to risks that are relevant to the population in that specific geographic area.

To support the F.I.R.E. Program, the Bristol Virginia Fire Department engages corporate and community sponsors to assist with expenses and materials. WCYB-5, a local NBC station, produced a DVD with region-specific weather messages to educate youth about what to do in a weather emergency. That DVD is used as part of the education program with the traveling Safety House. Additionally, staff members travel to Virginia Intermont College to teach young adults Resident Assistants in the dorms about fire extinguishers and escape drills. They utilize the mobile center demonstration to emphasize how quickly smoke can decrease your ability to escape.

For more information about the Bristol Virginia Fire Department successes, contact Eric Blevins at 276-645-7304 or email firechief@bristolva.org.

1 Socioeconomic Factors and the Incidence of Fire, U.S. Fire Administration, FA 170, June 1997.

2 Education Resources Information Center Website, www.eric.ed.gov - ED355044 -- Fire Safety: Protecting Our Children and Families. Hearing before the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families. House of Representatives, One Hundred Second Congress, Second Session (August 11, 1992) ISBN 0-16-039722-7

What they bought with the grant:

  • Fire Safety House
Last updated February 11, 2021