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Rural Health Information Hub

Fire Prevention Through Community Risk Reduction

The Vision 20/20 project, National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), and United States Fire Administration (USFA) identify community risk reduction (CRR) as an effective fire prevention strategy. CRR is a data-driven process to prevent fires before they occur. It is often referred to as “getting ahead of the call.”

CRR involves identifying and prioritizing risks and strategically investing resources to reduce the occurrence and impact of fires. In rural communities, limited supply and availability of water, firefighting equipment, and fire service personnel, as well as long distances between communities and local fire departments, can delay fire suppression efforts and increase the likelihood of fire-related injuries. Implementing a CRR program puts rural fire departments in a better position to develop strategies to mitigate high-priority fire risks and enhance public safety in their communities.

The NFPA recommends following this six-step approach when developing a CRR program:

  1. Conduct a community risk assessment
  2. Determine which risks should be prioritized now or later
  3. Develop strategies to mitigate risks
  4. Develop a CRR plan
  5. Implement the CRR plan
  6. Monitor, evaluate, and modify the CRR plan

Conduct a Community Risk Assessment and Prioritize Risks

A community risk assessment (CRA) is a comprehensive evaluation that identifies, defines, and prioritizes risks within a specific community. Performing a CRA allows local fire departments to better understand the community's fire safety needs and identify evidence-based strategies for reducing local fire risks. A CRA can provide more insight into when, where, and why a fire risk occurs and which populations are most affected. CRAs can also help fire departments determine which risks need to be addressed now and which can be addressed later.

To perform an effective CRA, rural fire departments should collect data on their community's demographics, fire-related death and injury rates, and fire incident locations and types. Rural fire departments can obtain fire information at the local level through their state or home safety visits. Rural fire departments can also explore national and state data sources to inform their CRA. Example national and state data sources for a CRA include:

In 2021, the NFPA released CRAIG 1300 to inform local CRAs and support CRR activities. CRAIG 1300 is a tool that creates dashboards with maps, charts, and graphs identifying at-risk populations, places, and conditions.

Rural fire departments can reference the Vision 20/20 project's Community Risk Assessment Guide for detailed step-by-step instructions on conducting a community risk assessment.

Develop Strategies to Mitigate Risks

After performing a CRA and identifying high-priority fire risks, rural fire departments can begin developing strategies to prevent or mitigate those risks. The NFPA and Vision 20/20 project recommend that fire departments use five different prevention/mitigation strategies to set clear goals and objectives for their CRR program. The 5 Es of Community Risk Reduction include:

  1. Emergency Response: Enhancing emergency services to improve community safety — for example, by offering comprehensive trainings to responders and using resources to target high-priority fire risks.
  2. Education: Enhancing the public's knowledge and awareness of fire safety to encourage fire prevention activities — for example, by incorporating fire safety curriculums in schools or delivering door-to-door education in their communities.
  3. Engineering: Modifying the environment or technology solutions to prevent or mitigate fire-related injury and death — for example, by installing smoke alarms in homes.
  4. Enforcement: Reducing fire-related risks by enforcing laws or rules, such as fire codes or smoke alarm requirements.
  5. Economic incentive: Offering financial incentives or penalties to encourage safer behaviors — for example, by including free smoke alarm installations and fines or penalties for non-compliance to fire safety codes.

Develop the CRR Plan

The CRR plan summarizes the goals and strategies of the CRR program. The plan should be clear and straightforward, with steps that can be measured during the evaluation phase.

A comprehensive CRR plan should include an outline of the vision, goals, and expectations of the program. It should also include a description of the community, fire risks, and planned prevention and mitigation strategies. The Vision 20/20 project's how-to guide on CRR planning provides step-by-step instructions on developing and implementing a CRR plan and includes examples of CRR plans.

Monitor, Evaluate, and Modify the CRR Plan

Evaluating the CRR plan helps rural fire departments monitor their progress and modify the CRR plan, as needed. There are four evaluation stages that can be used throughout the life of a CRR program:

  • Formative evaluation – Identifies problems and needs. This stage usually involves performing a risk assessment of the community.
  • Process evaluation – Examines the implementation process of the CRR program and tracks progress, such as the number of smoke alarms installed.
  • Impact evaluation – Analyzes short-term results of the CRR program, such as behavior changes, adoption of safety codes, and improvements in safety knowledge.
  • Outcome evaluation – Analyzes long-term results of the CRR program, such as reductions in fire-related death and injury rates.

Examples of Rural Community Risk Reduction Programs to Prevent Fires

  • In 2014, the Dwight, Illinois Fire Protection District implemented a CRR plan to enhance fire safety in the district. The CRR identified response/staffing, firefighter training, equipment, and fire prevention as high-priority risks. As a result of the CRR plan, the Dwight Fire Protection District focused on increasing firefighter training hours and the number of volunteers, developing a firefighter training center, and providing fitted breathing masks for every firefighter. They also implemented the Be Alarmed! Smoke Alarm Installation program, a collaborative effort between Dwight Fire Protection District, Illinois Fire Safety Alliance, and the Illinois Office of the State Fire to provide free smoke alarms to residents of Dwight Fire District. Be Alarmed! aims to educate residents on the dangers of fires and the importance of fire safety and prevention.

For more examples of local-level CRR planning and programs, see Vision 20/20's Supporting Community Risk Reduction Programs: A State Guide.

Implementation Considerations

Rural fire departments can take multiple approaches to implementing a CRR program in their community. CRR programs can be directed by the state, by the local fire department with support from the state (also known as the “state as resource” approach), or by both the state and fire department.

Rural fire departments with limited fire service personnel and fewer resources may want to consider a state directed or “state as a resource” approach. State organizations can provide fire departments with the advocacy, training, and tools needed to sustain a CRR program.

Rural fire departments should also consider strategies for gaining support and buy-in for their CRR programs. Rural fire departments can gain support for their CRR programs by:

  • Inviting fire chiefs, administrative leaders, and elected officials to participate in media opportunities related to CRR programming
  • Including elected officials in home safety visits
  • Meeting periodically with fire and life safety educators, officers, and managers in the department to monitor the progress of the CRR programs
  • Sharing the outcomes of CRR programs through media and presentations at conferences and events
  • Partnering with local public policy experts and advocates to support fire prevention and risk reduction legislation

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

Community Risk Assessment for West Virginia
Presents the findings of a state-wide community risk assessment for West Virginia looking at fire department service demand data and community risks of fire fatalities, cooking fires, and ground-level falls. Results from assessment will be used to develop and implement a community risk reduction plan.
Organization(s): West Virginia State Fire Marshall
Date: 12/2016

Community Risk Reduction (CRR) Leading the Way to Safer Communities
Presentation Slides
Discusses community risk reduction (CRR) and why it is important for communities. Provides details on how to develop a CRR and who should be involved in the process.
Organization(s): Vision 20/20
Date: 3/2016

Guide for Training Fire Service Personnel to Conduct Community Risk Reduction for Residential Occupancies
Offers guidance to fire department training officers and service personnel when developing and implementing a community CRR program to prevent residential fires.
Organization(s): National Fire Protection Association
Date: 2020

Rural Community Risk Reduction and Fire Extinguisher Basics
Presentation Slides
A presentation providing an overview of community risk reduction (CRR) and the challenges of fire suppression in rural communities. Discusses five types of prevention or mitigation: emergency response, education, engineering, enforcement, and economic incentive.
Organization(s): Vermont Division of Fire Safety
Date: 2015

Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development
Details the requirements on the process for conducting CRA and for developing, implementing, and evaluating a CRR plan.
Organization(s): National Fire Protection Association
Date: 2020