"The serious losses in life and property resulting annually from fires cause me deep concern. I am sure that such unnecessary waste can be reduced. The substantial progress made in the science of fire prevention and fire protection in this country during the past 40 years convinces me that the means are available for limiting this unnecessary destruction."
While this statement appears to be an accurate depiction of our country's current fire problem, interestingly enough, this statement was a part of President Harry S. Truman's address to the 1947 President's Conference on Fire Prevention.
Even though it was called "The President's Conference on Fire Prevention," the 1947 conference was not about fire prevention in specific, but about ways to reduce the total national fire loss. President Truman challenged the conference to take action and outlined his vision that: "It is the clear responsibility of every state and local official, and every citizen, to aggressively support this national war against the growing menace of fire."
The National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) 2005 report, "The Total Cost of Fire in the United States", indicates that in 2003, there were 3,925 fire fatalities, and the total property fire loss was $14.5 billion. This total property loss, was just a small portion of the overall $226 billion to $272 billion total cost of fire in America, which was roughly about 2 to 2.5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (gdp). The rate of this hemorrhage that is draining our national economy annually is relatively small in comparison to the strength of our national industrial output. But, a quarter of a trillion dollars annual cost is a very significant volume, and demands serious attention.
To put the magnitude of these statistics in perspective, comparison with some current significant national issues might be of value. Most don't know, but the total cost of fire in our country in 2003, was a little more than the gdp of the largest oil producing country in the world, Saudi Arabia. According to the World Bank's 2004 statistics, Saudi Arabia's total gdp in 2004 was about $251 billion. Think about this the next time you are paying about three dollars a gallon, filling your gas tank!
Also, from an unbiased, non-partisan view, compare our total fire cost statistics to our loss statistics in the Iraq war. During the past three years since the start of the war, America has spent $350 billion, and as of October 1, 2006, we have lost 2,718 of our bravest in Iraq. During the same time period, at an annual average rate of $250 billion, and 4,000 fire fatalities, we have spent $750 billion on total fire costs and have lost 12,000 people. Next time you watch the national evening news and hear about our losses in Iraq, 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!
Do most Americans realize this? I truly believe that if our representatives on 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.
As Americans, I believe it is our national obligation to focus on ways to significantly reduce this unnecessary destruction. In the competitive world of global economics, we must be concerned about such wastes. We need the foresight to look ahead 30 to 40 years and recognize that to be competitive in the global economy, we should focus on ways to decrease our total national fire cost.