Hitting Close to Home

By now, thanks to all of the efforts that National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has put in developing great statistical reports year after year, we in the fire service know that the majority of the fires and the fatalities occur in homes.Take a look...


By now, thanks to all of the efforts that National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has put in developing great statistical reports year after year, we in the fire service know that the majority of the fires and the fatalities occur in homes.

Take a look at the following 2007 fire loss statistics from the NFPA: 

"In 2007, U.S. fire departments responded to 399,000 home structure fires. These fires caused 13,600 civilian injuries, 2,865 civilian deaths, $7.4 billion in direct damage....In 2007, home structure fires caused 84% of the civilian fire deaths and 77% of the civilian fire injuries. Homes include one and two family dwellings, apartments, townhouses, row houses, and manufactured homes...Sprinklers decrease the fire death rate per 1,000 reported residential fires by 77% and the average loss per residential fire by 63%."

Numerous prior reports and statistics have also pointed out that our fire problem is mainly in homes. And that we can, and we must be more proactive. And that must have a much higher priority for fire prevention, if we indeed are serious about reducing our fire fatalities and injuries in our country.

The newest NFPA report "Characteristics of Home Fire Victims" released last month, gives us even a better look; and allows us to fix our scopes on the target to have a much better shot at addressing the fire problem in our country.

What a great report indeed. Here is the good news first. Based on this report, despite all of the fatalities, we are still doing a much better job of protecting our public than before. The report states that "overall, civilian fire deaths in home structure fires were down 47% in 2007, compared to 1980. The civilian fire death rate in home structure fires was down 60% in 2007, compared to 1980."

The not so thrilling news is that the most vulnerable high risk population groups are the very young, the very old, and also the economically deprived. The report indicates:  

  • Children under the age of five are almost 1.5 times as likely to die in a home fire as the general public
  • Adults over the age of 65 are almost 1.8 times as likely to die in a home fire as the general public
  • Adults over the age of 75 are almost 2.5 times as likely to die in a home fire as the general public
  • Adults over the age of 85 are almost 3.7 times as likely to die in a home fire as the general public
  • Certain characteristics that have historically been linked to fire death risk include age, sex, race, education level, poverty, family structure, age of the home, and the vacancy status of the home
  • African Americans in low income areas have higher fire death rates
  • African Americans face a risk of fire death almost twice that of an individual of another race

The report clearly underlines the fact that risk increases with age. And with respect to the fire injuries, the report stated that "as age of victim increases, physical disabilities are cited much more frequently than other factors that contribute to injury."

I believe that with mobility limitations, and the need for assistance for evacuation, the very young, and the very old, along with the disabled, are at a disadvantage and have the odds of survival against them. With that in mind, there could not be a set minimum level of fire protection and life safety in homes; unless as a very minimum, it provides for those most vulnerable. After all, as we age, the risks increases; therefore the minimum levels of safety must be set to still protect the higher risk.

Advancements in the early detection and extinguishing technologies have indeed proven to be essential in addressing the fire problem. In my mind, the majority of the successes mentioned in the report in reducing the fire fatalities, could be attributed to the great push in the late 70s led by the USFA to install smoke detectors in all  new homes.

The smoke detectors are great for early notification. Yet, hearing the alarm alone will not necessarily increase the odds of survival in a fire, especially for those in needs of assistance for evacuation, again the very young, very old, and the disabled.

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