Stan Szpytek headshot
Stan Szpytek

The National Fire Protection Association created Fire Prevention Week to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 as well as to promote fire safety at home and in the workplace each year during the second week of October.  This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the observance and may be a good time to put some extra emphasis fire safety with both staff members and residents in your senior living community.

It is likely that children at elementary schools around the nation will be visited by their local firefighters, who will teach them about fire prevention and fire safety, during the week of Oct. 9 to 15. Wouldn’t it be a great time for your senior living community to focus on fire safety, too?

Although senior living communities are required to conduct fire drills and fire response training on a regular basis in accordance with state and local requirements, it is not uncommon for a concept known as “drill fatigue” to set in due to the redundancy that comes with the frequency of those requirements. Think about how many times a long-time employee at your property has participated in training regimens and drills. The curriculum essentially is the same, and the drills follow a typical format but can be perceived as routine and boring — that is, until a real emergency occurs and those drills reveal their true value.

Fire Prevention Week represents a good opportunity for a senior living community to step up its focus on fire safety with both staff members and residents by developing creative ways to promote this essential element of community operations. The theme that the NFPA developed for this year is “Fire Won’t Wait, Plan Your Escape.”

For staff members, a good starting point is to consider conducting a special in-service on each shift focused on fire safety and emergency response procedures during FPW. Reviewing the common protocols associated with fire response, including the R.A.C.E. (Rescue, Alarm, Confine, Extinguish) and P.A.S.S (Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep) procedures will remind your team of the critical sequence of response to a fire or smoke condition in a building.

In addition to reviewing emergency response protocols, consider doing something a little more creative to promote fire prevention and response with your team. When was the last time your facility provided “hands-on” fire extinguisher training with your fire extinguisher contractor? FPW is a great time to conduct this type of training.

Another thing to consider is creating an interactive display that showcases the community’s fire protection features along with some fire prevention tips. An example: Create a table display that includes a mock-up of a fire alarm pull station that everyone can actually “pull” as well as other fire protection features that staff can see up close, such as fire sprinkler heads and smoke detectors. In the same display, you also can have examples of items that cause fires, such as candles, extension cords and power blocks that should be prohibited in a senior living community.

Independent living residents need to be reminded about fire safety, and FPW is an excellent time to spotlight this important topic. Conducting a resident meeting focused on fire safety and personal preparedness during FPW usually is a very popular activity. Aligning the fire safety presentation with the NFPA’s annual theme often is received very positively by senior living community residents.

Setting up a separate FPW display for independent living residents promoting fire safety within their own apartments is a great idea. Illustrating common fire hazards and demonstrating safe practices likely will be a hit with residents. Considering that most fire deaths and injuries occur in the home, promoting fire safety in your residents’ “homes” is an excellent way to help reduce the potential for fire-related injuries or death as well as prevent fire losses in your senior living community.

Another popular activity that you also may want to consider for both residents and staff members is hosting a meal that aligns with the annual NFPA theme at the community sometime during FPW. Serving cupcakes, cookies, a sheet cake or some type of sweet treat decorated to promote fire safety can help enhance levels of safety and preparedness within your community. 

You also can consider specifying a specific day during FPW where everyone wears a “red” shirt or similar clothing article to promote fire safety awareness.

Trying to engage the assistance of your local fire department always is a good idea but likely will be a challenge during Fire Prevention Week this year. Most fire service agencies are booked solid with visits to schools and other organizations within their jurisdiction to promote fire safety during this week in October. Don’t let that stop you from contacting the fire department to see whether you can schedule time for members to come to your community next year during FPW to enhance your property’s focus on fire safety.

One final tip: Tap into the creative minds of your activity directors and life enrichment departments to come up with some fun and innovative ways to promote fire prevention and fire safety within your senior living community during Fire Prevention Week 2022.

The NFPA’s website has more ideas for Fire Prevention Week 2022.

Stan Szpytek is the president of the national consulting firm Fire and Life Safety Inc. based in Mesa, AZ, and is the life safety/disaster planning consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association, the California Association of Health Facilities, the Utah Health Care Association and the American Assisted Living Nurses Association. Szpytek is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 40 years of experience in life safety compliance and emergency preparedness. For more information, visit or e-mail Szpytek at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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