Step 1C: Identify Causal Factors & Populations at Greatest Risk

When evaluating fire department incident data, it will be necessary to identify those factors contributing to the severity of the hazards and those populations at greatest risk. For example, it was determined in one community that cooking fires were a leading cause of residential fires. Examination of the causal factors revealed that food left unattended on a stove is a common cause, and that these homes have non-working smoke alarms. Residents attempted to fight these fires and were unfamiliar with the proper procedures for extinguishing small kitchen fires.

In the previous example, further analysis of the population where these fires occurred, demonstrated that most of these incidents involved older, Spanish-speaking females. Therefore, U.S. Census data and GIS-mapping can be very valuable in identifying at-risk populations. Important and relevant community partners and stakeholders can also be valuable resources at this point in the process. The people most often affected by fire and other emergency incidents themselves, will make great partners in creating strategies to prevent and mitigate risks, and to implement them.

When evaluating causal factors and at-risk populations, consider the following:

  • Social factors and cultural influences
  • Economic factors
  • Environmental elements
  • Identify risk factors in specific populations:
    • Children (age 5 & under)
    • Older adults (age 65 & older)
    • People with disabilities
    • People living in poverty
    • Populations that speak little or no English

Understanding the causal factors and populations at greatest risk will contribute to developing programs to address these problems. In the example above, prevention activities would be directed towards managing small kitchen fires, installation of smoke alarms, and directed primarily towards older Spanish-speaking individuals.