Little Known Facts

For the past four and half years, the war in Iraq has been on the prime news every single night, and has dominated all political debates across the country. Needless to say then, it is not hard to fathom that the war and its associated costs will still be the center of attention next year, and more than likely play the determining role in our 2008 Presidential election.

Myself, I personally dislike party politics and mudslinging, especially during the election years. Because even the simplest of statistics, facts and figures, are often aggrandized and distorted by the professional spin masters from both sides of the isle who are busy at work manipulating the public opinion in their own favor and against their opponents.

I like to analyze the raw and unbiased data myself, and based on sheer statistics, try to draw my own conclusions. In doing so, comparative analysis always helps put things in perspective for me.

That being said, from a completely non-political, unbiased, and non-partisan point of view, and with the utmost respect for our bravest sons and daughters serving in the military, my intent in writing this article was to compare the total cost of war in Iraq, with the total national cost of fire in America.

I am quite cognizant that the subject of war is politically charged, and rather delicate to address in any sort of comparative analysis. But then, I believe that by comparing our national fire loss statistics with the more familiar and tangible national loss statistics such as the war in Iraq, our public could have a better understanding of our nation's fire problem.

For decades, both the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have provided us with great reports that detailed annual fire loss and fatalities statistics. Yet, the absolute majority of the Americans and most of our elected representatives are completely unaware of the true magnitude of the total cost of fire in our country. Therefore, I believe that such comparative analysis could surely be a valuable public education tool.

In an article dated November 13, 2007, titled "War costs could total $1.6 trillion by 2009, panel estimates." CNN reported the predicted cost of war in Iraq. The article indicates that based on the congressional committee report by the Joint Economic Committee, "the total economic impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated at $1.6 trillion by 2009". This article also indicates that "the committee calculated the average cost of both wars for a family of four would be $20,900 from 2002 to 2008."

This report indicates that their predicted cost of war is higher than the government estimated and states "That is nearly double the $804 billion in direct war costs the White House requested so far from Congress...the higher total economic impact comes from, among other things, the cost of borrowing money to pay for the war, lost productivity, higher oil prices and the cost of health care for veterans, the committee said." The actual cost of the war which has been about $140 billion a year for the last four years and the article indicates "we cannot afford this war -- $12 billion dollars a month?" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nevada), said. "We just can't. We can't continue."

Now my friends, let's do a similar calculation to find out how much money an average family of four pays for the total cost of fire in the United States during the same six year span of time, as calculated by the congressional report.

Here are the facts. NFPA's report title "The Total Cost of Fire in United States", published on December 2006, indicates "for 2004, the total cost is estimated at $231-278 billion, or roughly 2 to 2 1/2% of U.S. gross domestic product." Based on the statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau, the total estimated population of the United States in 2004 was 293,655,404.

Now divide the total cost of fire by the total population to calculate the total cost of fire per capita in the United States in 2004:

$278,000,000,000 / 293,655,404 = $946.69

That is $946.69 for every single American. Now multiply that by four to calculate the total cost of fire in the United States for a family of four in 2004:

$946.69 x 4 = $3,786.75

That is the total cost of fire in a single year, in 2004, for a family of four. Now multiply that by six to get the total cost for the six year span of time, just as calculated in the congressional report:

$3,786.75 x 6 = $22,720.50

That estimate of $22,720.50 is the total cost of fire for six years, for a family of four. Notice that the estimated total cost of fire of $22,720 is more than the $20,900 that the congressional committee reported as the calculated cost of war.

The calculation in the congressional report has many additional factors that have inflated the actual cost of war thus far. Obviously our simple mathematics did not cover the inflationary impact of those parameters, yet still the total cost of fire was higher than their predictions for the war.

But as the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has indicated in that report, the actual cost of war in Iraq during the past four and a half years has been about $12 billion a month. Now, divide the $278 billion total cost of fire a year by 12 months, and you get $23.16 billion a month for fire. That means the average monthly cost of fire in America is twice the average monthly cost of the war in Iraq.

Now, as of Dec. 10, 2007, after four and a half years of involvement, we have lost 3,886 of our military personnel in the war in Iraq. But then that is roughly about the same number of fire deaths that we have in America every single year. That means that our fire fatalities during this period has been about four times higher than our war fatalities in Iraq.

Do most Americans realize this? No, but it is up to us to provide them that information. Through our public education efforts we must inform our public about the total cost of fire in our country. That way, the next time they watch the national evening news and hear about our losses in Iraq, they remember that we are spending more than twice as much on the total fire cost, and our fire fatalities are as much as four times higher here at home in America!

I only wish our politicians could put things in perspective and compare our total cost of fire to their total cost of war. I truly believe that if our representatives on the Capitol Hill were aware of the real magnitude of our country's fire cost year after year, they would pay a lot closer attention to address the fire problem in our country.

We in the fire service realize the importance of our mission to reduce the fire fatalities and the life-scarring fire injuries in our communities. But, we must also recognize our professional obligation and patriotic duty to acknowledge our responsibility in decreasing our country's total fire cost.


Azarang (Ozzie) Mirkhah, Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is the Fire Protection Engineer (FPE) for the City of Las Vegas Department of Fire & Rescue. His responsibilities include reviewing all building fire and life safety system designs and submittals to insure compliance with the federal, state and local fire and life safety codes and standards. Mr. Mirkhah is also involved in the development of fire & life safety codes and standards for the city.

Mr. Mirkhah is a registered professional engineer with more than 25 years of work experience in the field of fire protection engineering. Mr. Mirkhah joined the Las Vegas Fire & Rescue (LVF&R) more than 12 years ago. Prior to that Mr. Mirkhah worked as a consultant designing fire protection systems for some of the most internationally recognized fire protection consulting firms.

Mr. Mirkhah holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (BSME), and a Masters degree in Public Administration (MPA). Mr. Mirkhah is a 1999 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Mr. Mirkhah is a Certified Building Official, Certified Fire Inspector, Certified Mechanical Inspector, and Certified Plans Examiner through the International Code Council (ICC).

Mr. Mirkhah is a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and serves on the national NFPA 13 Technical Committee for Sprinkler System Discharge Design Criteria. Mr. Mirkhah is a member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) a member of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) - USA Branch. Mr. Mirkhah is also a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). You can contact Mr. Mirkhah at: amirkhah@lasvegasnevada.gov. To view all of Ozzie's articles on Firehouse.com, please click here.

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