We are currently seeing fewer fires in the United States than in past decades. However, statistically, if a fire is reported in your home, you are more likely to die today than 40 years ago. Today’s homes with their synthetic furnishings and open floor plans burn faster than homes did in the past.
Occupants might have fewer than three minutes to escape after a fire starts. Every 24 seconds, a U.S. fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the country. Nationwide, a civilian dies in a fire every 3 hours and 10 minutes, and a home fire injury occurs every 43 minutes.
NFPA report - ‘Fire Safety in the United States Since 1980’
These are among the insights put forward in the latest National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report ‘Fire Safety in the United States Since 1980’. The project was sponsored and executed by NFPA, with administrative oversight provided by the Fire Protection Research Foundation.
The report notes that a lot of progress has been made in decreasing fires and fire deaths, in the years since the landmark ‘America Burning’ report was published in 1973. The new report focuses on the changing trends since 1980.
Deploying sprinklers and smoke alarms
The widespread use of smoke alarms in homes has been one of the biggest success stories in fire safety in the past 50 years
The combination of an engineered solution enforced by codes and standards, and supported by public education has been effective in bringing down the number of reported fires and fire deaths. Adding sprinklers as an additional safety layer further reduces the fire death rate.
The widespread use of smoke alarms in homes has been one of the biggest success stories in fire safety in the past 50 years, although 20.5% of single-family homes have no working smoke alarms, and 7.6% have no smoke alarms at all. Fire sprinklers control 97% of the fires in which they operate, although only 5% of year-round housing units have sprinklers.
For homes, there has been a decline in the number of deaths per 1,000 reported fires in apartment buildings, while there has been an increase in the deaths in less regulated one- and two-family homes.
Cooking, the leading cause of home fires
More work is necessary. Cooking remains the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and it is among the leading causes of home fire deaths. Cooking is the only major cause of fire that has resulted in more fires and fire deaths in 2014-2018 than in 1980-1984, which emphasizes the need for fire safety solutions in this area.
The UL fire safety standards for new electric coil ranges are a step in the right direction, but more work is needed to ensure that something as simple as food preparation does not lead to death and destruction.
Smoking, a major cause of home fire deaths
Smoking has been the leading cause of home fire deaths for most of the last four decades and has remained the leading cause for 2014–2018 as a whole. Between 1980 and 2018, the annual number of home structure fires decreased from 734,000 to 363,000, while the number of deaths decreased from 5,200 to 2,720.
Adjusted to 2018 dollars, the annual level of property loss remained relatively constant, decreasing slightly from US$ 8.7 billion in 1980 to US$ 8.0 billion in 2018. Injuries decreased during the time period from 19,700 to 11,200. When considering population, fire rates per thousand population has decreased from 3.2 to 1.1 during 1980-2018, deaths decreased from 22.9 to 8.3 per million population, and per-capita dollar loss decreased from US$ 38.4 to US$ 24.5.
Fires in hospitals and nursing homes
The NFPA study also analyzes fires involving hospitals and nursing homes
The NFPA study also analyzes fires involving hospitals and nursing homes, as well as catastrophic multiple-death fires and fires in the wildland/urban interface (WUI), as they have the potential to cause significant human loss.
Buildings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and hotels have seen stricter requirements for fire safety in the last four decades and, as a result, catastrophic fires in these types of buildings are now rare.
Great progress in preventing hospital fires
Great progress has been made in preventing hospital fires. In 1980–1984, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 7,100 hospital fires annually, resulting in an average of five deaths per year. In 2014–2018, there was an estimated average of only 1,100 hospital and hospice fires that caused one death per year. None of the deaths in this period were patients.
The wildland/urban interface (WUI) has grown, as has the intensity of the fire problem in these areas. WUI fires burn homes, cars, and a variety of other properties. Fatal injuries can occur in homes, outside, or in vehicles while trying to evacuate. Wildland fire season lasts longer due to human-caused ignition rather than lightning causes. Human-caused WUI fires made up 97 percent of WUI fires.