Global Lessons: Bringing Fire Prevention Home

While residential fires continue to be our biggest problem in the U.S., fires in public buildings, notably assembly occupancies, while occurring less frequently cause the largest loss of life and property. Recently a fire in a Bangladesh factory killed...


Being deployed with the U.S. military to a forward location has allowed me to take a step back and look at prevention from an overall global view, and to see the similarities and contrasts applied to fire protection between the United States and others around the world. One thing in common is many countries, although not all, apply copious amounts of resources to be able to control and contain what starts out as simply a small flame at the end of a match stick.

Fire is a global threat and is a weapon of mass destruction. Recent articles of fire and major losses of life in a Bangladesh factory killing 112 workers, and more recently the Brazilian night club fire that killed over 230 patrons, prove that when fire does strike it claims lives and property in large, dramatic, and tragic ways. Fire will always be a major threat to every community in all four corners of the globe and the fire service needs to stand ready to contain and control that lingering threat that can be found in every home, and in every building, and is lying in wait behind every outlet, on every kitchen stove, and every other possible area a fire can ignite.

While I have read about all these tragic fires and many more, I will admit I am no scientific study on the subject and simply apply a surface observation as an engineer/paramedic from the cab of my engine. As all firefighters I apply the keep it simple stupid (K.I.S.S.) principle to fire service application and leave the analysis to the people at the National Fire Protection Association and U.S. Fire Administration who produce the reports. But this is how I see it. Whether the fire breaks out in Bangladesh or Anytown USA, the same issues and problems apply universally as fire knows no geographic boundary when it strikes; when allowed to start it grows and kills the same way and for the same reasons. Fire is the ultimate global terrorist and right now Bangladesh and Brazil are giving us lessons we need to learn and apply here at home to take this terrorist down. 

While residential fires continue to be our biggest problem in the U.S., fires in public buildings, notably assembly occupancies, while occurring less frequently cause the largest loss of life and property. While a common civilian on the street may simply come to the conclusion that the bigger the building the more people inside thus the bigger fire and loss of life, and call such an occurrence a simple "tragedy" and go on with their day; we in the fire service profession (key word profession), sworn to protect life and property from fire, do not have that luxury. Any firefighter worthy of that title knows that these fires and deaths, while yes tragic, did not need to occur and in fact could have been predicted and if it could have been predicted then it could have been prevented. As educated professionals (key word professionals) in the fire service if we know what causes these fires and loss of life and do nothing to prevent them can that mean in some ways are we culpable? 

There is no way a fire department protecting Anytown USA can affect or change a fire problem in Bangladesh or anywhere else in their state for that matter. But they can affect change in the community outside their station bay doors. Fire departments need to take ownership of their jurisdictions for the level of fire protection they provide with the amount of data and knowledge that is possessed and available. If a fire department is aware of the causes of fire and death in assembly occupancies' and makes no effort to uncover or correct those decencies in the community they protect, does that not make that department culpable in a large fire or loss of life? How would we fair in the courts of public opinion if we lost 230 citizens in a night club fire due to obvious fire code violations if we are not doing anything towards fire prevention?

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