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Escape! Because Accidents Happen -- Fire

Classroom Activity

To research and analyze fire safety strategies in public and private buildings.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Up To Code?" student handout (HTML)
  1. Organize students into groups and distribute the "Up to Code" student handout. Explain that each group will collect data on how a building is designed to address three facets of fire safety: preventing a fire from occurring and/or spreading, extinguishing a fire and evacuating people. Groups may choose to investigate a public building (such as a school, mall, cinema or library) or their own home. (If students choose to evaluate their own home, obtain permission first from a parent or guardian.) Students can collect data outside of class over a one- to two-week period.

  2. To help students identify types of data to collect, create a class list of elements of building design and construction that address fire safety issues. In addition, have students brainstorm a list of places where they could learn about fire safety. (See Resources for some suggestions.) From their brainstorming and research, have groups create two master checklists of fire safety items (one for public buildings and one for private homes) so that data can be compared later.

  3. Have groups gather their information by touring a public building or private home and talking to the person(s) who oversees the property (building manager or parent/guardian).

  4. Once they've gathered their information, have students report their findings. From their lists, compile a final checklist on the board for each type of building. Compare the data and discuss similarities and differences between the checklists and the reasons for them.

  5. Following their building appraisal, have students generate their own rating system, taking the "least safe" of the buildings they compared and proposing changes to increase its safety.

  6. As an extension, students could create a "prototype" building that would be as safe as possible. Students should consider cost factors when designing their building.

Activity Answer

As an alternative to having students collect data on a building, invite an architect to present a building plan and explain fire safety features or talk about aspects of your local building code that deal with fire safety. Students can use their checklists to evaluate the building plan.

As students create their checklists, they might consider the following questions:

  • What fire safety features are evident in the building? (Note: You might want to point out that some features, such as fire walls, may not be readily apparent.)

  • How many smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire extinguishers and fire sprinklers are there? Where are they located?

  • How many escape routes are there and are they free of any obstructions? Are the escape routes clearly marked?

  • Does the building contain any flammable debris?

When comparing buildings, students might ask themselves:

  • Do safety features differ between the two buildings? If so, why might that be?

  • How old are the buildings?

  • Is one building made of more flammable material than the other?

  • What's the appropriate level of risk for a building? What are some factors to consider in evaluating that risk?

  • Can a building be made 100 percent fireproof?

Below are basic safety features recommended and/or required by the government for homes and public buildings:

Some Safety Features for Homes*

  • smoke detectors—on every level, outside all sleeping areas, tested regularly

  • planned escape routes

  • fire screens around working fireplaces

  • electricity—frayed wires discarded, one electrical item per outlet, appliances in good condition

  • combustibles (such as trash, rags, paper) stored away from heat-producing equipment

  • matches and lighters stored out of children's reach

  • flammable liquids (such as turpentine, barbecue lighter fluid) stored in tightly closed and labeled containers

  • portable heating equipment properly maintained and located at least three feet from walls, furniture and other combustibles

  • Automatic sprinkler system

Some Safety Features for High-Rises*

  • smoke and fire alarm system
  • Automatic sprinkler system
  • emergency lighting
  • emergency exits
  • fire lanes around perimeter of building
Links and Books


National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
The NFPA publishes a catalog of fire safety products, including a fire facts newsletter, a home inspection list, books to help children learn fire safety behaviors and more. For a catalog of educational materials, call (800) 344-3555.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Escape: Fire
Delves deeper into the program's content and themes with features such as articles, timelines, interviews, interactive activities, resource links, program transcripts and more.

NFPA Codes and Standards Information
Includes a history of the development of fire codes and an overview of how codes are created and used.

NFPA Fire Safety Information
Includes a national fire escape survey, seasonal and home fire safety tips and a link to mascot Sparky the Fire Dog, who will answer students' questions.

Princeton Review Online
Find out what a day in the life of a firefighter is like, what kind of organizations employ firefighters and more in this career profile of a firefighter.

U.S. Fire Safety Administration National Fire Programs
Provides a series of downloadable fact sheets about such topics as the nature of fire, electrical fire prevention, teaching children fire safety, rural fire safety and prevention and more.


The "Up To Code" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 5-8

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Personal health

  • The potential for accidents and the existence of hazards imposes the need for injury prevention. Safe living involves the development and use of safety precautions and the recognition of risk in personal decisions. Injury prevention has personal and social dimensions.

Risks and benefits

  • Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people that might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.

  • Students should understand the risks associated with natural hazards (fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions), with chemical hazards (pollutants in air, water, soil and food), with biological hazards (pollen, viruses, bacterial and parasites), social hazards (occupational safety and transportation) and with personal hazards (smoking, dieting, and drinking).

Grades 9-12

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Personal and community health:

  • Hazards and the potential for accidents exists. Regardless of the environment, the possibility of injury, illness, disability or death may be present. Humans have a variety of mechanisms—sensory, motor, emotional, social and technological—that can reduce and modify hazards.

Teacher's Guide
Escape! Because Accidents Happen -- Fire

Video is not required for this activity