High-rise building fires

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Report: NFPA's "High-Rise Building Fires"
Author: John R. Hall, Jr.
Issued: September 2013

This report provides an overall statistical perspective on the fire experience in high-rise buildings, including analysis and discussion of risk in high-rise vs. other properties.

Executive Summary

In 2007-2011, an estimated 15,400 reported high-rise structure fires per year resulted in associated losses of 46 civilian deaths, 530 civilian injuries, and $219 million in direct property damage per year. An estimated 3% of all 2007-2011 reported structure fires were in high-rise buildings.

The trends in high-rise fires and associated losses (inflation-adjusted for property damage) are clearly down, but the sharp post-1998 reduction appears to be mostly due to the change to NFIRS Version 5.0, which is shifting estimates to lower levels that also appear to be more accurate.

Four property classes account for half of high-rise fires: apartments, hotels, offices, and facilities that care for the sick. In 2007-2011, in these four property classes combined, there were 7,700 reported high-rise structure fires per year and associated losses of 27 civilian deaths, 370 civilian injuries, and $92 million in direct property damage per year. The property damage average is inflated by the influence of one 2008 hotel fire, whose $100 million loss projected to nearly $40 million a year in the analysis.

This report emphasizes these four property classes. Some other property uses – such as stores and restaurants – may represent only a single floor in a tall building primarily devoted to other uses. Some property uses – such as grain elevators and factories – can be as tall as a high-rise building but without a large number of separate floors or stories. For these reasons, the four property use groups listed above define most of the buildings we think of as high-rise buildings, and their fires come closest to defining what we think of as the high-rise building fire problem.

By most measures of loss, the risks of fire and of associated fire loss are lower in high-rise buildings than in other buildings of the same property loss. This statement applies to risk of fire, civilian fire deaths, civilian fire injuries, and direct property damage due to fire, relative to housing units, for apartments, and risk of fire for hotels, offices, and facilities that care for the sick.