Fire Prevention Tips: Identifying High Risk Apartment Residents


Efforts to identify people within an apartment community who are at high risk for fires have spread in recent years. An increasingly diverse population fueled by immigration has received special attention from fire prevention specialists nationwide, and was a point of emphasis during this year’s Fire Prevention Month in October.

Language barriers are among the more common obstacles in effectively communicating fire prevention to immigrants and people who don’t speak English, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NPFA). But immigrants, who historically seek housing at apartments, are not the only class of residents who may be at risk for fires. Older adults, younger children, people with disabilities and low-income families are just as susceptible.

Earlier this year, Rockford, Ill., was the tragic definition that certain groups of residents are at higher risk of fire than others. In January, a fire caused by a Christmas tree killed four people, including a 10-month-old baby, teenage boy, a special-needs man in his 20s and an elderly woman. The fire was the second this year in Illinois involving at least one high-risk resident.

“Individuals in high-risk categories may have trouble comprehending a fire and may not be able to escape a fire on their own,” said Tom Lia, executive director for the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board in a press release after the fire.

The Top High-Risk Groups for Fire Injury

To help communities identify high-risk populations, fire departments from Chicago to Miami held open houses and special events during this year’s Fire Prevention Week. Also, the NPFA mounted a campaign to help communities identify immigrant populations. Several community agencies are available to help spread awareness. Naturally, the local fire department is a great resource.

Based on recent data, the following groups are at higher risk of suffering injury or death because of fires:

1. Toddlers Top the List for Fire Fatalities

Kids up to age four head the Center for Disease Control’s list of top six populations that are most likely to die from fire. Apartments can help educate kids on fire safety through a number of programs available by the NFPA.

2. Immigrants and Non-English-Speaking Citizens

Communication barriers and fears among immigrants prompted by national immigration debates make fire prevention education difficult, thereby increasing risk. But working through those in the know about immigrant populations in the area can help spread the word. Many churches and local groups and organizations provide services to newcomers and existing immigrant and refugee populations. Encourage leaders to communicate fire safety within these communities.

3. Elderly Residents More Likely to Die in Fires than Others

Elderly Americans are more likely to die in a fire than the rest of the population, according to the NFPA. About 1,000 over the age of 65 die each year from blazes. Also, people over 80 are three times more likely to die in a fire than anyone else. Consider offering a special fire safety education open house in the community room or at an outdoor gathering area.

4. Disabled Residents at Risk of Fire Harm

The risk of death or injury from fire is even greater for people with physical, mental or sensory disabilities, according to the U.S. Fire Administration and Disabled American Veterans. Ensure disabled residents are made aware of safety devices and have an exit plan.

Smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, smoke alarms with a strobe light outside the house to catch the attention of neighbors, and emergency call systems for summoning help are also available.

Know Your Apartment Community Population

Properties can take a big step toward fire safety and prevention simply by identifying those who are at high risk of fires and educating residents about the importance of fire safety and prevention. Knowing your residential makeup and understanding language limitations and the ability to comprehend fire safety that go along with it can help property managers not only prevent catastrophic fire damage, but also increase the chances of saving lives.


Image credit: iStock



Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

2 responses to “Fire Prevention Tips: Identifying High Risk Apartment Residents”

  1. Vera says:

    Multicultural tenants can present a challenge in conveying fire safety regulations. Training leasing agents and maintenance staff to communicate effectively with international residents can make a big difference. If staff can convey information in a way that is culturally sensitive residents are more likely to adhere to the rules. This is especially true when fire issues relate to religious practices, such as using open-flame candles in an enclosed shrine.

  2. chasha says:

    In less developed countries and other 3rd world countries, there is very little public knowledge on the safety and safeguarding of property and fire prevention techniques and strategies. With proper support property management companies should take an active role in sentising the tenants on such issues as this can be the gap in mainting the value of the property and loosing it entirely. Must not only fall under the responsibilities of insurance firms ..

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