Burn Institute Teaches Kids Burn Prevention, Fire Safety

This student-authored post is published by CPR in partnership with Medill News Service and the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views, policies, or positions of CPR or CDC.

A cast of green and purple puppets breaks into song. The audience of 3-year-olds responds as you’d expect, by dancing in their seats.

Puppets, song, and dance are how the performers of “Let’s Stay Safe from Fires & Burns” introduce preschoolers to the topics of fire safety and burn prevention. Puppets named Greg and Jen teach children about the dangers of matches. “Mr. Match” emphasizes the importance of stop-drop-and-roll.

After the show, students receive bags of educational materials, including coloring books, stickers, and a safety checklist to share with their families.

“Burns Don’t Discriminate”

The Burn Institute in San Diego leads the effort to reduce burn injuries and empower people with burn injuries in the area. They place particular focus on children.

Susan Day is the Burn Institute’s executive director. “Burns affect people of all ages,” she said. “Burn and fire prevention education can never start too early.”

Children age 5 and under have more than double the risk of dying in a fire than any other age group. The rate of child deaths from burns is seven times higher in low to middle-income countries, as compared to high-income, per the World Health Organization.(1)

Tessa Haviland is the institute’s director of marketing and events. “Burns don’t discriminate based on any age, demographic, socioeconomic status, or anything like that,” she said. “So, it’s really important that we reach all communities.”

Fire-Safe Kids

In 2009, the Burn Institute developed the Fire-Safe Kids program in collaboration with the local fire department and the University of California San Diego Burn Center. The goal is to teach kindergarteners through third graders about fire safety.

The Burn Institute’s team of staff, interns, and volunteers tailor programs to the needs of different age groups and communities. Puppets and songs are used with young children. Presenters rely on active storytelling and games to teach older kids. These presentations tell the story of three friends and their dog as they learn about best fire practices, escape plans, and burn management.

The program was expanded in 2015 to include fourth through sixth graders and incorporate topics like kitchen safety, the risks of electricity, and the consequences of fire-play. Maria Leushina is a former intern at the Burn Institute who now leads Fire-Safe Kids as the prevention education coordinator.

“We keep the presentations interactive,” Leushina said. “We ask the kids questions as we go. We have them demonstrate stop-drop-and-roll, crawling to a door, and checking it with the back of their hand. We also have some videos as well.”

A Family Approach

Tessa Haviland underscores the importance of taking a family approach to fire prevention and emergency preparedness.

“When an emergency happens, there’s not always time to sit down and make sure that everyone knows [the plan],” Haviland said. “If everyone’s part of the [planning] process, they’ll know what to do, where to go, and how to get out of the house.”

For more information on how to make a home fire escape plan, visit the Ready Campaign website.

Inclusion Creates Community

In its outreach efforts, the Burn Institute also strives to bring down societal and language barriers. The Institute recently added Spanish captions to all the Fire-Safe Kids slides. Pre-recorded presentations are available in multiple languages. And the puppet show is performed in English and Spanish.

The Burn Institute also leads outreach efforts to help people with burn injuries and survivors of fires cope with trauma. The institute hosts support groups, holds retreats, and offers specialized programming to help people care for each other and heal.

“The trauma of a burn doesn’t end when you leave the hospital; some of that emotional and long-term scarring can last throughout a lifetime,” Haviland said. “The commitment of the Burn Institute to form communities for these burn survivors [so they] have a safe space where they’re able to connect and mentor each other about the struggles, but also [share] the successes that they have––it’s something truly motivational.”


  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/burns
  2. https://www.kidsdata.org/topic/765/linguistically-isolated65/table#



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Source: CDC