Unnecessary Destruction

Oct. 9, 2006
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.

"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.

Back in 1947, President Truman recognized that preventing fires in the first place was the best way to reduce the total fire loss in our country. And to this date that fact has remained unchanged. October is national fire prevention month, but preventing fires and reducing our country's total fire cost must be on our minds all year long. We need to focus more on fire prevention and utilizing all available technologies to address the fire problem in our country. Surprisingly, such simple affordable technologies have been available for decades. According to the NFPA about 80 percent of our fire fatalities occur at homes. And the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) claims that installation of smoke detectors and fire sprinkler systems together reduce fire death rates and property damage by 82 percent. Yet, nationally less than 2 percent of our homes are protected by fire sprinklers!

Since 1947, we have made great strides toward protecting our citizens from the wrath of fire. Yet, the perfect applicability of President Truman's statement to our current conditions clearly reveals the fact that we are still struggling with similar problems and trying to overcome the same obstacles. This fire prevention month in October, we should recognize that as a nation, we need to refocus our attention on prevention as the best way to reduce our country's total national fire cost.

As a proud member of our country's fire service, I recognize the importance of our mission to reduce the fire fatalities and the life-scarring fire injuries in our communities. I also believe that it is our professional obligation and patriotic duty to acknowledge our responsibility in decreasing our country's total fire cost.

Mr. Mirkhah 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) and served on their Qualifications Board. Mr. Mirkhah is also a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). You can contact Mr. Mirkhah at: [email protected].

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