Just about a month ago in December, the USFA National Fire Data Center NFDC released "Fire in the United States, 2003-2007" report.
This document is the 15th major edition of "Fire in The United States" published by the USFA and covers the five year period of 2003 to 2007 with a primary focus on 2007. The first edition was published in 1978, and included fire data from 1975 and 1976.
The good news is that the national fire loss statistics continued on a downward trend. The report indicates that annual deaths from fire in the United States were estimated at 12,000 in 1974, the year in which the USFA was established.
The NFPA estimated fire deaths in 2007 was 3,430.
Yet despite all the improvements during the past three decades, the report indicates that "nevertheless, the United States has a fire death rate 2 to 2 1/2 times that of several European Nations and at least 20 percent higher than many other nations. Of the 25 industrial nations examined by the World Fire Statistics Centre, the United States ranked as having the fifth highest fire death rate. This general status has been unchanged for the past 27 years."
No, that isn't the bad news either. It is rather important for us to be aware of such global statistics and comparisons since they help us better realize where we truly stand, recognize the shortcomings, and point out to the areas that we need to focus to do even a better job in the future.
We have come a long way indeed. But the journey is not over. We still have a long way to go. In my mind, the issue isn't whether the glass is half full or half empty. It is simply about what we in the fire service can do better, where we can improve to provide a higher level of fire protection for our local communities, and how we can best address the fire problem in our country.
On page one of the report, the depth of our national fire problem is clearly depicted in the very first paragraph of the executive summary section, which states:
"Fire departments in the United States responded to nearly 1.6 million fire calls in 2007. The United States fire problem, on a per capita basis, is one of the worst in the industrial world. Thousands of Americans die each year, tens of thousands of people are injured, and property losses reach billions of dollars. There are huge indirect costs of fire as well-temporary lodging, lost business, medical expenses, psychological damage, and others. These indirect costs may be as much as 8 to 10 times higher than the direct costs of fire. To put this in context, the annual losses from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters combined in the United States average just a fraction of those from fires. The public, the media, and local governments generally are unaware of the magnitude and seriousness of the fire problem to individuals and their families, to communities, and to the Nation."
Here lays the problem. While it is true that the public, the media, and local governments generally are unaware of the magnitude and seriousness of the fire problem to individuals and their families, to communities, and to the nation. I sincerely believe that the same exact lack of awareness also exists among our very own peers in the fire service.
Don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself. Never mind the young rookie firefighters who haven't been around long enough to know, but ask any/all of your best seasoned, most senior chief officers in your departments to see whether they were even aware that the annual losses from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters combined in the United States average just a fraction of those from fires.
Forget about asking them about the annual fire loss statistics in the country, or yet even closer in your own state. Ask them if they know the annual fire loss statistics in your very own community. What did you find out?