Young children and older adults at highest risk of death from home fires

Published on July 31, 2008
NFPA report finds overall decline in deaths and injuries

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July 31, 2008 – People at the highest risk of death in home structure fires are the very young and very old, according to the Characteristics of Home Fire Victims report released today by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Key findings from the report:

AGE 
  • In 2002-2005, children under age 5 were one and a half times as likely to die in a home fire as the general public.
  • People age 65 and over were more than twice as likely to die in a home fire and the risk of death increased with age among older adults, with those 85 and over being nearly four times as likely to die.
  • The highest risk of non-fatal injury from home fires was faced by people age 20-49 and 75 or over. Risk of injury for adults between 20-34 years old was 30 percent greater than the average person.
  • For children 14 and under, heating equipment is the leading cause of civilian fire deaths. Children under the age of 5 are more than eight times as likely to die in fire caused by playing with heat source than are people of all ages.

GENERAL

  • Overall, fire deaths and injuries in home structure fires are down. On average, 2,870 people died in home structure fires annually in 2002-2005.
  • In 2005, home structure fire deaths were down 45 percent and injures were down 35 percent, compared to 1980.
  • More than two of every five people injured (but not killed) in home fires were trying to fight the fire or rescue someone when they were injured.
  • More than one of every three fatal fire victims never wake up before being injured.

GENDER

  • Males have a 30 percent higher risk of home fire death than females and an 18 percent higher risk of non-fatal home fire injury.
  • Males were more likely than females to be fighting the fire or trying to rescue others from it when injured, while females were more likely than males to be escaping when injured.

REGION/POPULATION

  • Rural communities were found to have the highest fire death rates in the nation. In 2006, the highest fire death rates by far were in southern communities with populations under 2,500 people. Comparable areas in the west had the second highest death rate.

CAUSES

  • Smoking materials have historically caused the largest number of civilian deaths in home structure fires; however in 2002-2005, heating equipment and smoking materials each accounted for 24 percent of civilian fire deaths. Cooking equipment continues to be the leading cause of civilian fire injuries.
  • For children 14 and under, heating equipment is the leading cause of civilian fire deaths. Children under the age of 5 are more than eight times as likely to die in fire caused by playing with heat source than are people of all ages.
  • Fire deaths due to smoke inhalation outnumber deaths due to burns.

NFPA offers the following tips on 10 things people can do to be fire-safe at home:

  • Watch your cooking
    Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you must leave, even for a short time, turn off the stove.
  • Give space heaters space
    Keep fixed and portable space heaters at least 3 feet from anything that can burn. Turn off heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep.
  • Smoke outside
    Ask smokers to smoke outside. Have sturdy, deep ashtrays for smokers.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach
    Keep matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a cabinet with a child lock.
  • Inspect electrical cords
    Replace cords that are cracked, damaged, have broken plugs, or have loose connections.
  • Be careful when using candles
    Keep candles at least 1 foot from anything that can burn. Blow out candles when you leave the room or go to sleep.
  • Have a home fire escape plan
    Make a home fire escape plan and practice it at least twice a year.
  • Install smoke alarms
    Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Interconnect smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Test smoke alarms
    Test smoke alarms at least once a month and replace batteries once a year or when the alarm “chirps” to tell you the battery is low. Replace any smoke alarm that is more than 10 years old.
  • Install sprinklers
    If you are building or remodeling your home, install residential fire sprinklers. Sprinklers can contain and may even extinguish a fire in less time than it would take the fire department to arrive.

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NFPA has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international nonprofit organization is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.

Contact: Lorraine Carli, Public Affairs Office: +1 617 984-7275