June 12, 2013 – Surrey, the second largest city in British Columbia, Canada, recently received an international award for its evidence-based approach to fire prevention and a targeted smoke alarm giveaway program that has significantly reduced fires and fire losses in the city. For several years, Charles Jennings, associate professor in the Department of Security, Fire, and Emergency Management and director of the Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies at John Jay College, has shared his research expertise on socioeconomic factors and fire risk with the Surrey Fire Services. Professor Jennings work has been used to help target neighborhoods for the fire safety program, improve high-rise fire safety and plan service delivery options.
“It is exciting to be able to see an impact from your research. Under Chief Garis, Surrey has become one of the most progressive fire services in North America. The power of partnering academics and practitioners has set an example for the entire industry," said Professor Jennings.
Surrey was awarded a 2013 Community Health and Safety Program Excellence Award for its Evidence-Based Fire Reduction Strategy and HomeSafe program by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), which represents 9,000 local government managers around the world.
Launched in 2008, HomeSafe uses local fire and demographic data to target fire hotspots for door-to-door firefighter visits and smoke alarm giveaways. Formal evaluation of its first two years showed a 64% reduction in the annual rate of fires for HomeSafe houses – approximately 4.4 times greater than the reduction (15%) observed in other high-risk homes over the same period. The program also cut fire losses in half, increased smoke alarm activations by 169%, and reduced fire size and spread.
Professor Charles Jennings co-authored HomeSafe’s formal evaluation along with Dr. Joseph Clare of Surrey Fire Service and the University of Western Australia, Fire Chief Len Garis of Surrey Fire Service and the University to Fraser Valley (UFV) and the Dr. Darryl Plecas of UFV. The evaluation was published in the March 2012 edition of the Journal of Safety Research.
Surrey’s Evidence-Based Fire Reduction Strategy has also served as a launching point for a province-wide working smoke alarm campaign, coordinated by the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC and supported by the provincial government. Launched in March 2012, the campaign is already exceeding expectations, with 44% fewer residential fire deaths and 5.1% fewer residential fires reported in its first year.
Professor Jennings rejoined the faculty after serving as the deputy commissioner for public safety for the City of White Plains, NY. He has conducted research on numerous topics, many related to public policy issues and the fire service. He earned his doctoral degree in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University.