Why Advocacy Matters
Why Advocacy Matters: Deadly Misconceptions and How Survivors Can Help
by Lorraine Carli
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors are proud partners in advocating for fire safety. While facts and figures are an important part of advocacy, they’re often not enough to fight the misconceptions that get in the way of fire and life safety.
“It can’t happen to me.”
In fire safety, we often say we suffer from our own success. The good news is that the number of fires has been cut in about half since the late 70’s. The number of civilian fire deaths in the U.S. has decreased from 7,395 in 1977 to 3,390 in 2016. Smoke alarms, codes and standards, effective enforcement and public education have all contributed to a decrease in fire deaths and overall loss. But people are less likely to know someone who died or suffered tremendous loss from fire, so there is a complacency toward fire safety.
“Our policy makers keep us safe.”
A survey conducted by NFPA found that consumers believe buildings today are built or maintained to the latest codes and that 75% of U.S. consumers think local, state, and federal governments should be held accountable for ensuring fire and electrical safety codes are up-to-date. Consumers trust that policy makers don’t weaken fire and safety codes by removing the latest knowledge and advancements. But there are numerous examples of policy makers allowing substandard practices in their communities after bowing to myths and misinformation. A great example is the provision for home fire sprinklers in new homes, which has been included in all model codes (the minimum level of safety) since 2009. The housing industry spent some $517 million in state politics over the last decade, and numerous states now prohibit the requirement of home fire sprinklers. (According to a piece written in Pro Publica citing information from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.)
“There’s no more work to do.”
Today, fire claims nine lives a day. Last year, it caused almost $11 billion in direct property damage. In 2016, U.S. fire departments responded to a fire every 24 seconds. There are roughly three thousand people dying from fires each year in the U.S. alone - still far too many.
So how do we fix the disconnect?
We all need to work together to close the gap between what the public believes and what really happens. By ensuring jurisdictions are adopting and enforcing the latest codes, we will save lives.
- We must reinforce our public education and advocacy efforts with campaigns and messages on the importance of up-to-date codes and standards.
- We must encourage the public to be more responsible for their own safety, to look around their homes and other places they frequent and ask about fire protection systems.
- We must encourage the public to take a greater role in ensuring that their governments are committed to safer buildings.
Survivors have a big role to play.
Burn survivors are powerful partners in NFPA and Phoenix Society’s work. By sharing their stories, Phoenix Advocates can make a crucial difference.
In 2014, the National Electrical Code evolved to require Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs), which automatically detect and remove power to faulty electrical wiring, in kitchens and laundry rooms, in addition to the already mandatory bedrooms and living areas.
Rebekah Johnson, a Phoenix Society advocate and Florida resident shared the devastating impact of her burn injury – an injury that could have been prevented by AFCIs – to the Electrical Technical Advisory Committee in Florida, as they discussed updating their electrical code.
Rebekah’s testimony resonated with the committee. They unanimously rejected a proposal by the Home Builders Association to remove the provision for expanded AFCI protection and maintained the AFCI requirements for kitchens and laundry areas in the 2014 NEC.
The updated code will go into effect at the end of 2017.
Become a Phoenix Advocate
Lorraine Carli is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for the National Fire Protection Association. Along with serving as the president of the Board of Directors for the Phoenix Society, Carli is president of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and a member of the Board of Directors for Electric Safety Foundation International (ESFI).