This is the first in a series of posts on residential fire and fire prevention. The series will focus on those actions that homeowners can take to protect their homes and families. It will cover those areas of the house that require regular inspection and maintenance. It is hoped that these posts will inspire homeowners to take preventive actions and to further educate themselves about home safety.
Every year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes their “Fire Loss in the United States,” which provides a statistical overview of fires in America
In the 1970s, only about 10% US homes had some form of smoke detection device. Today, that number has grown to over 95%. Since 1977, structure fires in the United States have dropped from well over one million to less than 500,000 per year. Smoke alarms have played an important role in that reduction. Still, over 2700 people lost their lives in house fires last year, and nearly 16,000 were injured, even though most of those homes had smoke alarms. And even though that number is down from a high of over 6,000 in 1977, most of these deaths were preventable.
It is interesting to note that the smaller the community, the more at risk a home is for fires. In communities of at least 10,000 people to those of over 1,000,000, there averages 3.5 fires per 100,000 people. With communities of less than 5,000, that number doubles to 6.7 fires per 100k, and the figure more than triples to 10.6 fires for communities of less than 2,500. The higher rates for smaller communities is attributed to reduced resources for both fire fighting (many smaller communities still have only volunteer fire departments) and for fire safety education.
The drop in fires and fatalities is due in large part to increased use of smoke alarms, improved building standards, such as the increased use of ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets (GFCI) and increased public awareness, such as the dangers of smoking in bed.
According to the NFPA, the primary causes of residential fires are:
- Appliances, such as stoves, ovens, HVAC equipment, washing machines, dryers and fans.
- Children playing with fire
- Gas leaks
- Electrical fires
- Chemical fires from household products, such as oily rags, or discarded rags with furniture stains, and flammable fumes from cleaners, thinners and paints.
- Holiday Christmas trees, holiday lights and decorations.
With the possible exception of lightning, all of the above causes of residential fires can be substantially prevented with regular inspection, maintenance and education.
The NFPA is proposing five strategies for reducing fire fatalities:
- Increased public fire safety education on how to prevent fires and how to avoid serious injury or death if a fire occurs Information on the common causes of fatal home fires should be used in the design of fire safety education messages.
- Increased use of smoke alarms.
- Increased use of residential sprinklers.
- Improved and more widespread fire safety education programs, such as the development and practice of escape plans focusing especially on the most vulnerable, high-risk groups, such as young children, older adults, the poor, and people with disabilities.
- Increased research and regulation on product safety, such as industry advancements on child resistant lighters are a good example, as are fire-safe cigarettes.
All of the above actions involve the government and government agencies. However, the single most important factor in fire prevention is the homeowner. By becoming better educated about fire, fire prevention, home inspection and maintenance, and by actively taking steps to safeguard your home, you can eliminate 99% of potential fire threats.
This series on residential fire prevention will focus on those actions that homeowners can perform in order to safeguard their homes and families. It is intended that this series will cover many aspects of homeowner fire prevention, especially those areas that the NFPA cites as the primary causes of residential fires. The next two posts in this series will cover smoke alarms: placement, maintenance, how they work, and which type works best.
Much of the above information was derived from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) current report on fire loss, “Fire Loss in the United States During 2014,” published September, 2015.
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