Wednesday, September 15, 2010

S.A.F.E. statistics

So I get this letter sent home in Robin's backpack:
TO: Parents and/or Custodians of Fourth Grade STudents

The Amherst Fire Department, ... blah blah blah... will be presenting a fire safety awareness program to your child. This program is funded through a state grant knows as S.A.F.E. (Student Awareness of Fire Education).
OK... cool, I suppose. I don't like the cutesy government acronym, but that's just me being cynical. I would kind of like to know how much school time was going to be spent (hours? days?) on Fire Education and the letter doesn't tell me that, but OK.

Then they push several of my pet peeve buttons:
Please consider the following tragic statistics:
  1. Nearly 10% of the 52 fire deaths in Massachusetts in 2005 were children unde r the age of 18.
  2. 75% of fire victims died in the so-called safety of their own homes.
  3. Nearly one-quarter of these deaths occurred in homes with no working smoke detectors.
  4. Unsafe disposal of smoking materials was the leading cause of residential fire fatalities in 2005, just as it is every year
"Nearly 10% of 52?" Why not just say "5 kids were killed in fires in 2005"? Even better, how about telling me how many kids were killed last year, or maybe the average number of kids killed over the last 5 years? Was 2005 a really bad year for fires?

I guess these statistics are supposed to make me appreciate the importance of Fire Awareness Education, but I'd summarize them as: A handful of kids die in fires in Massachusetts every year, mostly because some parents are careless with their cigarettes.

We don't smoke and our house has working, hard-wired smoke detectors on every floor. Phew, looks like there's approximately a 0% chance we'll have a house fire.

Fewer people are killed in fires these days than ever before-- maybe because of programs like S.A.F.E. But I doubt it; I bet if I dug out the long-term trends of number-of-kids-killed-in-fires in states with programs like S.A.F.E. versus states without student fire education programs I'd see exactly the same trends.

But what's the harm? S.A.F.E. only costs about a million dollars a year, if it saves just one life every few years it is worth it.

Then again, if it distracts parents from the real risks to their kids maybe it is doing more harm than good.