Fire in the Home Leads List of Top Concerns for Americans

October 6, 2006 - BOSTON - As Fire Prevention Week begins October 8, a new national study reveals that for most Americans, home fires rank highest on the list of top disaster concerns, along with terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

The "2006 Fire Safety Census," released today by Liberty Mutual and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), reports that 75 percent of those polled are concerned about fire in the home, 60 percent about terrorist attacks, 51 percent about tornados, 34 percent about hurricanes, 33 percent about earthquakes and 33 percent about floods. The telephone survey interviewed more than 1,000 Americans 25 years old and older during August 2006. The results are profiled online at www.befiresmart.com, Liberty Mutual's new interactive fire safety and prevention website.

"It is clear from the survey that Americans are concerned about any type of disaster affecting them and their families, but it's interesting to see that home fires soar to the top of that list," says Paul Condrin, Liberty Mutual president, Personal Markets. "That high level of concern is certainly validated. Home fires do indeed cause more deaths than all natural disasters combined, and, according to the IAFF, last year 82 percent of the 3,675 fire-related deaths were caused by home fires."

Despite this high anxiety around home fires, the survey further reveals that many Americans are dangerously negligent when it comes to taking fire precautions and are largely uninformed about what to do if a fire occurs - steps that can dramatically impact their chances of surviving a fire.

Additionally, most Americans are not spending the time to educate those most vulnerable to fires: their children. Eighty-four percent of parents polled admitted that they do not frequently discuss fire safety with their children, even though seven in 10 parents also report their children are less than fully prepared to escape and survive a fire. Statistics show that the fire death risk for children under age 5 is nearly double the risk of the average population, and that children make up 15 to 20 percent of fire-related deaths.

"All too often, our members see the tragedies that result from home fires that could have been avoided by taking simple fire safety measures," says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. "There is more we all can be doing to protect our homes and families from a fire. This survey identifies some areas where we can improve our chances of preventing fires and surviving them, should they occur."

Risky Behaviors Are Widespread

More than 90 percent of the people surveyed conceded that having a smoke alarm, fire extinguisher and fire escape plan are all important. However, many are still not putting even these bottom-line safety measures into practice:

  • 20 percent of Americans do not own a fire extinguisher; and
  • 27 percent of Americans do not have a fire escape plan.

The leading reason as to why: They haven't thought about it.

Additionally, many survey respondents admitted to engaging in risky behaviors that could increase their risk of home fires. While 85 percent of those polled answered correctly that more fires start in the kitchen than any other part of home, 26 percent acknowledged they have left food cooking on a stove top or in the oven unattended, and disturbingly, 16 percent reported that they have disabled a smoke alarm while cooking.

Respondents also divulged other risky behaviors around the house:

  • 41 percent reported leaving the clothes dryer running when not at home;
  • 32 percent reported leaving holiday lights on when not at home; and
  • 12 percent admitted to leaving burning candles unattended

"These results show that most people have a minimal understanding of fire safety precautions, and that this understanding is limited to smoke alarms and fire extinguishers," adds Condrin. "But, fire safety includes so much more -- more that we should be doing, and shouldn't be doing -- to survive home fires and, more importantly, to prevent home fires."

Deep Knowledge Gaps Exist

The Liberty Mutual/IAFF 2006 Fire Safety Census found that many of those surveyed simply do not know about the fire safety measures they should be practicing:

  • Nearly half of those surveyed (44 percent) wrongly believe that power strips protect against electrical fires (in fact, when overloaded, power strips can cause electrical fires);
  • One in four (24 percent) consider space heaters to be "safe" (they are actually a leading cause of home fires in December, January and February);
  • 15 percent mistakenly believe that any type of fire extinguisher can put out a fire (there are different classes of extinguishers for different types of fires);
  • Only 6 percent of those surveyed know that having working smoke alarms in the home can more than double their chances of surviving a fire; and
  • Only three in 10 adults (30 percent) would evacuate their house first before calling the fire department.

"It's clear that everyone should be taking more time to learn about fire safety," says Schaitberger. "There are fundamental safety measures that everyone should be practicing. These precautions really can prevent tragedies, and they're not difficult to do at all."

Top Fire Safety Tips

Based on the survey results, Liberty Mutual and the IAFF have developed fire safety recommendations for families to stay safe and be prepared. Top tips are:

  • Test smoke alarms once a month.
  • Change smoke alarm batteries once a year - at an easy-to-remember time, such as when clocks are changed.
  • Replace a smoke alarm that's more than 10 years old
  • Buy a fire extinguisher, mount it, and learn how to use it. Revisit the instructions every six months.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended or near combustible materials - home fires caused by candles have doubled in the past decade.
  • If a fire alarm sounds, or smoke is visible, evacuate first and then call the fire department.
  • Close doors behind you when leaving the room and building to slow the spread of fire and smoke.
  • Plan an escape route that shows two ways out of each room.
  • Identify a meeting place near the home.
  • Practice an escape plan - during the day and night - at least twice a year.
  • Talk to children frequently about preventing fires and escaping fires.
  • Do not leave a dryer on unattended.
  • Do not leave a stove or oven on unattended.
  • Keep portable heaters at least three feet away from all combustible materials and never leave them on unattended.
  • Never disable a smoke alarm.
  • Do not overload power strips.
  • Turn holiday lights off when not at home.

For more information on the survey and fire safety tips go to www.befiresmart.com. The site has four distinct sections for parents, children, educators and fire fighters, and includes fire safety tips and information, interactive lesson plans, and games.

Survey Methodology

Liberty Mutual and IAFF commissioned KRC Research to conduct a quantitative survey with a random sample of adults aged 25 and older nationwide. KRC conducted 1005 phone interviews from August 7-16, 2006. The statistical significant differences are computed at a 95% confidence interval with a +/- 3.1% error margin. Percentages in the report may add to more or less than 100% due to rounding error or occasions when multiple response answers were accepted.

About IAFF

The International Association of Fire Fighters, headquartered in Washington, DC, represents more than 275,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics who provide emergency medical response to 80 percent of the population in the United States and Canada.

About Liberty Mutual

Liberty Mutual Group (www.libertymutual.com) is a leading multi-line insurer in the U.S. whose largest line of business is personal auto based on 2005 direct written premium. A top ten provider of auto and home insurance to individuals, Liberty Mutual is an industry leader in affinity partnerships, offering its personal lines products to employees and members of more than 9,000 companies, credit unions, and alumni and professional associations. Liberty Mutual Group ranks 102nd on the Fortune 500 list of largest corporations in the United States. The company, headquartered in Boston, Mass., employs over 39,000 people in more than 900 offices throughout the world.

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