GAINING TRUST AND ACCESS
A successful home visit program will be well publicized and use effective methods to gain the confidence of residents and facilitate access into their homes. Fire departments that have had success with home visit programs have made communication and partnerships a priority. You can model your program on some of these. Utilize these best practices when developing your program.
Getting the Word Out
Publicize your department’s home visit plan in advance. Communicate about the dangers of home fires and how these visits can help protect families in the areas where you are implementing the program.
Get buy-in for the home visits from influential members of the community. These may include religious leaders, social service agencies, organizations and local officials. Their endorsement of the home visits will contribute to your ability to be invited into homes.
Many fire departments have found door-to-door canvassing effective. Sometimes called “sweeps,” these often involve unscheduled visits in which home visit teams knock on doors in designated areas, with the fire truck parked in a visible location, and ask for permission to enter the home to install smoke alarms and educate residents about fire safety. These activities should be well publicized in advance through the media and signage, and possibly through notification in person by community partners who visit the area to let residents know the event will be taking place. When performing a “blitz-style” canvassing event, offer to return to the home at a scheduled time to conduct a more thorough home survey.
Create information packets about your program and distribute them before the canvass. The information packets should clearly state that the fire department is sponsoring the home visits. Describe what is involved in the home visit and include a brief letter from the fire chief encouraging participation and reinforcing that the smoke alarms are free.
If the budget includes postage, consider direct mail advertising. A home visit project in a rural county in Oklahoma mailed an oversized postcard to every home in the county asking people to call for an appointment for free smoke alarm installations. More people called for appointments after receiving the postcard in the mail than from other methods.
This team purchased a reasonably priced mailing list and used it to mail the postcards to homes in identified neighborhoods. They left packets at the doors of people who were not home at the time of the visit, with clear instruction on how the resident could reach them to reschedule a home visit.
If the identified community has homeowners associations, have a representative from the fire department contact the association manager to talk about the home safety visits and the benefits of installing smoke alarms. Request that they inform and encourage their members to welcome a home safety visit.
Making presentations to high-risk audiences is another good way to share information about your program. Arrange to speak at senior centers, Head Start programs and school events. Bring sign-up sheets and information packets to increase interest and participation in home visits.
Conduct a Smoke Alarm Saturday. Announce two weeks prior to your selected Saturday that firefighters will be going door-to-door in designated neighborhoods to conduct home safety visits and installing free smoke alarms. Advertise the date of the home safety visits through newspapers and public service announcements.
- A proven method to increase the percentage of homes participating is firefighters placing door hangers on each home prior to the Smoke Alarm Saturday.
- Work with large local retailers to host fire safety days. Recruit volunteers and firefighters from the home visit program to inform residents about the home visits and schedule appointments.
- Prepare signs or banners for fire department vehicles that will be used for home visits so residents throughout the community see information about the program and can ask for immediate or scheduled visits.
- Put placards announcing the program in places likely to be frequented by the high-risk audiences you most need to reach.
- Encourage ride-alongs with members of allied organizations and the media to educate them on the reality of a home fire and what can be done to prevent them. This also helps to generate additional referrals.
Identify a central call-in number that residents can call for immediate service.