Report: NFPA's "Fatal Effects of Fire"
Author: John R. Hall, Jr.
Issued: March 2011
This short report provides trend information on burns versus smoke inhalation as fatal effects of fire, including both numbers and shares of fire deaths, with analysis of fire incident reporting versus death certificate reporting on the same topic.
Death certificates show a 2-to-1 ratio of smoke inhalation to burns for fire deaths overall, while fire incident reports show an 8-to-1 ratio for home fire deaths. Deaths involving both smoke inhalation and burns account for about one-quarter of fire deaths reported on death certificates and about half of home fire deaths reported in fire incident reports.
Prior to 1999, smoke inhalation fire deaths outnumbered burn deaths in fires by roughly 3-to-1 in death certificates, and the gap had been widening steadily for at least 20 years. Death certificate coding was changed so that more than one fatal condition could be coded. It was now possible to categorize deaths as (a) involving both burns and smoke inhalation, (b) involving smoke inhalation but not burns, (c) involving burns but not smoke inhalation, or (d) involving one or more conditions but not smoke inhalation and not burns. The percentages of deaths falling into the four categories suggest that all or nearly all of the deaths now coded as involving burns and smoke inhalation were being coded only as smoke inhalation prior to 1999.