Mitigation of the Rural Fire Problem in the United States

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Project Background

USFA has partnered with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in a project to examine what can be done to reduce the high death rate from fire in rural America. This project supports USFA's goal to reduce fire deaths.

During the five-year period of 1997-2001 (excluding the events of September 11, 2001), rural communities with populations fewer than 2,500 had an average fire death rate of 30.9 per million population. This rate was at least twice that found in most other population intervals.

The overall focus of this cooperative agreement with the NFPA is to take the information from the USFA Report, The Rural Fire Problem in the United States, and provide information to the local-level (e.g., fire service, government, educators, etc.) on effective mitigation methodologies and techniques to address this problem in rural communities. This USFA report details a fire death rate 35 percent higher than in non-rural areas. The report also states that there are fundamental differences in the nature of the rural fire problem than the U.S. fire problem as a whole.

NFPA has been reaching out to leaders of volunteer organizations whose main focus is serving rural communities to learn what works in implementing programs in those communities. NFPA is also reaching out to national and local fire service organizations -that have as one of their main objectives the reduction of fires, deaths, and injuries in rural communities - to learn more about their program successes and challenges.

As part of this project, NFPA hosted two meetings with key leaders of these volunteer organizations to discuss best practices and possible mitigation strategies. Human issues such as public fire safety education and technical factors, including fire and smoke detection, codes, consumer product safety, and residential fire sprinklers were examined.

Project Findings

Whether it is the separation of communities from one another or the separation of residents from one another, the report finds separation to be the defining characteristic of rural America. Ultimately, separation makes it more costly to conduct business in rural communities which impacts the economy and residents are more likely to be poor. The challenges some businesses face due to separation, like print media for example, may impact the quality and ease of communication within and to a rural community. This is an example of something that may limit the distribution of safety information.

Poverty was found to be the most significant factor driving the higher fire risk in rural America. Less income means fewer resources. While rural populations have a greater need for safety, they have a reduced ability to fill that need without outside help. They would benefit from safer products - which can sometimes mean newer products - as well as devices designed to provide safety like smoke alarms.

About the Report

The final report, Strategies Based on Original Research and Adaptation of Existing Best Practices, documents and summarizes the results of the entire project, provides implementation strategies, and measures the impact this effort had on the reduction of rural fires.

Train-the-Trainer Presentations

A Train-the-Trainer Presentation for the rural fire service and community leaders on administering successful outreach programs as well as a separate presentation for citizens that highlights key fire safety and preparedness messages.

Public Fire Education Planning for Rural Communities: A Five-Step Process

This planning guide will introduce you to a simple, easy-to-use planning process to develop a rural fire safety program for your community.