"It is an interest that's dear to my heart," he said. "For the past 50 years, millions of dollars have been frittered away in making fire safety education a fun event without serious meaning. That continues today, and as a result, the U.S. continues to have one of the worst fire records in the world. Parents who have never learned the important lessons of fire safety are unable to convey the dangers to their children."
Although noted for his weather reports on network television, Dr. Field did a series of news reports in the late 1980s that said it is often safer to live in a foreign city than many major U.S. cities.
In an effort to better educate the public, Dr. Field released a DVD in 2006 called "Fire is..."
"As a whole, schools in general end with fire safety lessons in elementary grades and most of that is by a single visit of the fire truck and Spot the fire dog coming into the class," Dr. Field said. "To compound the problem, such lessons as "Stop-Drop" have become the key to such education. The last time I visited a grade school class to talk about fire safety, I asked 'What is the first thing to do when the smoke detector goes off in you house and your home is on fire?' In unison, the kids responded with 'Stop, drop and roll' instead of to get out immediately."
Still a part time resident of New Jersey, Dr. Field, along with the help of the nation's fire chief's, distributed 36,000 copies of his DVD to fire departments across the United States. This documentary uses real life footage, some of which came from his reporting in the 1980s, to make his points. He noted that seniors and children are the most at risk in a fire.
"Fire education in this country has been a total failure," he said. "If you are really interested in looking into it, the facts will amaze you. New York state for example has a state law that calls for an hour of fire education each month. The way the law is complied with is to hold a fire drill, and that takes care of the education. Yet fires rarely happen in schools. They happen in homes."
Dr. Fields said that during his documentaries in the 1980s, he learned that New York City, which houses the county's largest fire department, had only five firefighters assigned to education.
"The NYC school system had over a million kids. There was no way in hell that they could deal with fire education," Dr. Field said. "Its not just here in the tri-state area. More than half the states in the U.S. have no laws mandating fire education, so there is none. In the last year or two, FEMA has given millions in grants for fire education and its just one big joke."
Dr. Field pointed to the Seton Hall fire of the late 1990s as an example of ignorance and the lack of understanding about the danger of fire.
"In this country, if you fall asleep while smoking and drinking and set a building on fire that kills people it will be deemed an accident and the Red Cross will come in with clothes and food," Dr. Field said. "In Japan, which has a far better fire record than the U.S., you would be lynched for destroying heirlooms and driven out of the neighborhood. I interviewed a number of the students after the fire at Seton Hall. Not a single one ever remembered fire safety education in high school or at any time, and some of them recalled either coloring books or fire trucks coming to school or watching animated films of Spot or Smokey Bear. Well that's exactly the way kids are being taught today. Also, most of the kids I spoke to raced out of the dorm through smoke and fire to the main entrance to which they were accustomed to using, when they should have gone through other fire exits which were free of smoke. They had no idea of how to behave when there is a fire."
Even Dr. Field said he was ignorant of fire safety when he neared the age of retirement.
"I was typical of the average American who was totally ignorant of the danger of fire, and that is true for most American adults today," he said. "We were never taught the lessons of fire safety and prevention. Now all my grandkids are being taught the same ineffective way."
This is part of the reason he helped kick off the Fire Quiz program in Bayonne in 2006, as a means to better educate kids about the nature of fire.
The fact that the other school districts are picking up on the Fire Quiz program is very pleasing to him.
"I have received letters from fire departments concerning the free DVD, 'Fire is....' We have managed to get over 100,000 copies distributed through the aegis of MetLife Foundation, the Fallen Fires Foundation and Fire House Magazine," he said. "The Fire
Quiz is a great move in educating kids. It does involve some fun, but along with the reality DVD that I hope makes youngsters think twice about playing with fire and pointing out the true nature of fire, it's a step toward the future. In a sense, I am employing the same visuals that have misled the public when they see heroic firefighters dashing through flames on sets that are fully lit. Remember the movie, I think it was called 'Backdraft,' in which firefighters jumped and ran without protective helmets or masks? Well if television and movies can confuse and mislead, why not use the media to tell the truth about fire?"