Geographic Mapping as a Tool for Identifying Communities at High Risk for Fires

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The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether the sample of older adults in a home fire safety (HFS) study captured participants living in the areas at highest risk for fire occurrence. The secondary aim was to identify high risk areas to focus future HFS interventions. Geographic information systems software was used to identify census tracts where study participants resided. Census data for these tracts were compared with participant data based on seven risk factors (ie, age greater than 65 years, nonwhite race, below high school education, low socioeconomic status, rented housing, year home built, home value) previously identified in a fire risk model. The distribution of participants and census tracts among risk categories determined how well higher risk census tracts were sampled. Of the 46 census tracts where the HFS intervention was implemented, 78% (n = 36) were identified as high or severe risk according to the fire risk model. Study participants’ means for median annual family income (P < .0001) and median home value (P < .0001) were significantly lower than the census tract means (n = 46), indicating participants were at higher risk of fire occurrence. Of the 92 census tracts identified as high or severe risk in the entire county, the study intervention was implemented in 39% (n = 36), indicating 56 census tracts as potential areas for future HFS interventions. The Geographic information system-based fire risk model is an underutilized but important tool for practice that allows community agencies to develop, plan, and evaluate their outreach efforts and ensure the most effective use of scarce resources.

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