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Using Engaging Animation to Educate Children About Fire Safety for Surrey Fire & Rescue Service

About Surrey County Council’s Fire & Rescue Service

In the UK, each council district has its own fire and rescue service. This local council department is responsible for ongoing responses to emergency services calls around fires, traffic collisions, flooding, and situations that may require the removal of hazardous chemicals or substances.

Beyond emergency response, the Surrey Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) also does a lot of local outreach, including check-in visits for vulnerable people, school visits, and open days. The aim here is to increase knowledge and education around fire safety, checking devices like smoke alarms, and improving safety for young and vulnerable people.

The Challenge

One of the most extensive responsibilities of the SFRS is to educate the local community, particularly schoolchildren, about fire safety. Before approaching LEO Learning, the council (along with many other councils across the UK) had been using a fire safety video that was over 20 years old. The video needed updating to be more inclusive, more engaging, and provide more up-to-date information.

While ensuring the content was sufficiently educational, SFRS was also keen to create an engaging piece of content with the appropriate level of social awareness—for example, avoiding gender stereotypes and misogynistic tropes, like the damsel in distress or boys being troublemakers. It was also important that the content be just as informative for kids as their parents or caregivers.

The Solution

LEO worked closely with the Education team at Surrey Fire & Rescue Service to produce a 4-minute child-friendly animation that carried multiple layers of messages. The primary message was not to play with matches and lighters. The second was what to do if you get in trouble.

Going deeper, there’s also important messaging about gender roles.

This includes the fact that the girl accidentally starts the fire while playing (troublemakers/rule-breakers are not only boys). However, she is also the one to suggest getting the adult when the fire alarm goes off (avoiding the damsel in distress trope). In addition to this, the parent shown is a dad, and no other parents are referenced, which leaves the parenting situation deliberately ambiguous.

Also, the chief firefighter who comes to help is a woman, which can help kids detach gender roles from historically associated only with men and inspire young girls to a career they may not have considered.

Alongside this, the animation carries a number of important messages that change the traditional narrative of fire safety videos. For example, most fire incidents are not caused intentionally by children, they are often accidents. Additionally, the animation teaches the importance of getting out of the situation safely to get help rather than fixing it themselves.

LEO conducted a series of workshops with the SFRS team to establish the appropriate animation and character style to get the information across effectively. To ensure the longevity of the animation, we decided to create the characters as little monsters rather than human children with haircuts and clothing that could date the final product.

To ensure we had the right style and messaging for the piece—with a target audience of 5 to 7-year-olds—we worked with a freelance animator who has regularly produced animated shows for the British kids’ TV channel CBeebies.

Although the animation may look simple on the surface, which is ideal for a young audience, it’s incredibly detailed and several very specific choices were made. As well as the focus on avoiding stereotypical gender roles within the piece for both the child and adult characters, various details specific to the fire service were added. This included reducing the number of respondents from five to four, in line with the latest SFRS policy.

The Results

The animation is set to be played in over 300 schools across the UK, reaching an estimated 12,800 Year 2 students annually. Feedback from the education team at SFRS has been fantastic, with initial reports indicating that children across the Surrey school district are engaging with the animation and asking for more.

Michael Spence, Education Officer in the Children and Young People Team at SFRS, said: “Working with LEO Learning was an absolute pleasure from start to finish. At each stage of the process, they completely exceeded our expectations and made the whole experience extremely enjoyable. The finished product was beyond anything we could have hoped for and will make a difference to thousands of children across Surrey.”

Abi Robertson, Education Officer in the Children and Young People Team at SFRS, said: “What most impressed us about the team at LEO Learning was their enthusiasm and dedication. Not everyone is as passionate about fire safety as we are, but the team really listened to us and seemed just as excited as we were to realize our vision and bring it to life. Thanks to LEO Learning, we have an animation that we are incredibly proud of, and that will inspire thousands of children across the UK to be fire safe.”

You can see a preview of the final animation here.

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