AUTHOR: Marty Ahrens

Live sprinkler

The biggest problem with fire sprinklers? Not enough places have them.

The recently published 2021 edition of NFPA US Experience with Sprinklers report shows, that properties with sprinklers have lower rates of fire deaths and injuries. In most occupancies, property loss is also reduced. From 2015 to 2019, local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 51,000 structure fires per year (10 percent) in which sprinklers were present. Sprinklers are in all kinds of buildings, ranging from homes to hospitals, schools to stores, etc.  Compared to reported fires in properties with no automatic extinguishing systems (AES) such as sprinklers, range hood extinguishing systems, etc., when sprinklers were present, the civilian fire death and injury rates per fire were 89 percent and 27 percent lower, respectively. The rate of firefighter injuries per fire was 60 percent lower. Sprinklers are highly reliable and effective in suppressing fires and reducing loss. Sprinklers operated in 92 percent of such fires and were effective at controlling the fire in 96 percent of the incidents in which they operated. Overall, sprinkler systems operated and were effective in 88 percent of the fires considered large enough to activate them. One sprinkler is usually enough to control a fire. In 77 percent of the structure fires where sprinklers operated, only one operated. In 97 percent, five or fewer operated. Fire spread was confined to the object or room of origin in 95 percent of reported structure fires in which sprinkler systems were present compared to 71 percent in properties with no AES. Home fire sprinklers The report also includes a section specifically on sprinklers in home fires. Despite the fact that more people die from home fires than fires in any other occupancy, sprinklers were present in only 7 percent of reported home fires.  Compared to fires with no AES, in home fires with sprinklers present, rates per reported fire were: 88 percent lower for civilian deaths, 28 percent lower for civilian injuries, and 78 percent lower for firefighter injuries The average loss per fire was 62 percent lower for home fires with sprinklers compared to fires in properties with no AES. Sprinklers operated in 95 percent of the home fires in which the systems were present and the fires were considered large enough to activate them. They were effective at controlling the fire in 97 percent of the fires in which they operated. Taken together, sprinklers operated effectively in 92 percent of the fires large enough to trigger them. Learn more about home fire sprinklers from the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative. Check out the full report for more information about sprinklers in all occupancies.
Home fire

Home structure fires and even home fire deaths are all too common in the news

Stories of home structure fires and even home fire deaths are all too common in the news. During 2015 to 2019, US fire departments responded to an estimated average of 346,800 home structure fires per year. These fires caused an annual average of 2,620 civilian deaths; 11,070 civilian fire injuries; and $7.3 billion in direct property damage. Roughly three-quarters of civilian fire deaths and injuries were caused by home fires. Homes are much less regulated than most occupancies. We need to understand how these fires happen and how they can be prevented or mitigated. And we need to make prevention a priority. Reported home fires peaked from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., when many people are coming home from work, preparing dinner, or engaging in other household activities. Only one-fifth of the fires were reported between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. (19 percent), but these fires caused half of the home fire deaths (49 percent). Most home fires and fire deaths resulted from one of five causes: cooking (49 percent of fires and 20 percent of deaths), heating equipment (13 percent of fires and 19 percent of deaths), electrical distribution and lighting equipment (9 percent of fires and 16 percent of deaths), intentional fire setting (7 percent of fires and 15 percent of deaths), and smoking materials (5 percent of fires and 23 percent of deaths). It’s easy to get distracted when cooking. We can forget just how much heat we are using. Sometimes, we even forget we have food on the stove. Heating equipment was the leading cause of fire deaths in one- and two-family homes. Such incidents typically occurred when a space heater was too close to something that could catch fire. Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was the leading cause of home fire property damage. Cords or plugs were involved in only 1 percent of home fires but 7 percent of the deaths. Extension cords dominated the cord or plug category. The 8 percent of home fires that started in the bedroom and 3 percent that started in the living room each caused 25 percent of home fire deaths. Thirty-six percent of the bedroom fire deaths and 33 percent of living room fatalities resulted from fires started by smoking. Working smoke alarms can provide valuable escape time. Smoke alarms were present in 74% of reported home fires. Smoke alarms operated in 89 percent of the fires in which they were present and the fire was considered large enough to activate them. However, almost three out of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires where either no smoke alarm was present (41 percent) or at least one alarm was present but did not operate (16 percent). To benefit from the early warning, occupants must be aware of the alarm and take immediate action. People with disabilities may be unable to act or act quickly enough to save themselves. Sprinklers can control a fire until help arrives. However, only 7 percent of reported home fires were in properties with sprinklers. We have made progress. Reported home fires and home fire deaths in 2020 are roughly half of what they were in 1980. Population-based home fire and home fire death rates are roughly one-third what they were back then. However, the death rate per 1,000 reported home fires in 2020 was 2 percent higher than in 1980. We’re doing a better job preventing fires than in coping with fires after they start.   You can access the full report and supporting tables. In addition to details on overall home fires, tables about fires in one- and two-family homes and fires in apartments and other multi-family home are also included. And let us know if you’re seeing what we’re seeing? What’s working in your community?
Smoke alarm

Almost three out of five home fire deaths were caused by fires with no working smoke alarms

NFPA recently published its latest edition of Smoke Alarms in US Home Fires. This report and its supporting tables provide the latest information on smoke alarms in home fires reported to local fire departments in the US.  Smoke alarms were present in three-quarters (74 percent) of the reported home fires in 2014–2018. Almost three out of five home fire deaths were caused by fires in properties with no smoke alarms (41 percent) or smoke alarms that failed to operate (16 percent). People who were fatally injured in home fires with working smoke alarms were more likely to have been in the area of origin and involved in the ignition, to have a disability, to be at least 65 years old, to have acted irrationally, or to have tried to fight the fire themselves. These victims were less likely to have been sleeping than those who died in fires in properties without working smoke alarms. The death rate per 1,000 home structure fires was 55 percent lower in homes with working smoke alarms than in homes with no alarms or alarms that fail to operate. Missing or non-functional power sources, including missing or disconnected batteries, dead batteries, and disconnected hardwired alarms or other AC power issues, were the most common factors when smoke alarms failed to operate. For more information and to stay informed on safety messages about smoke alarms please visit our free resources here.
A house on fire

Most home fires result from five general causes

It may be hard to believe, but NFPA's latest report on Home Structure Fires shows that during the years 2014-2018, five general fire causes accounted for 86% of reported home fires, 95% of home fire deaths, and 83% of home fire injuries. Cooking was, by far, the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries, and was the second leading cause of home fire deaths. Because cooking is such a routine part of our lives, it’s easy to forget the high temperatures and dangers involved. Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires and the third leading cause of home fire deaths. Creosote build-up in chimneys was the most common cause of these fires, while fires involving fixed and portable space heaters caused most of the heating fire deaths. Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was the third leading cause of home fires and the fourth leading cause of home fire deaths. Conditions that make these fires possible can occur long before a fire presents – largely as a result of wiring being installed or repaired incorrectly, or when receptacles, power strips or cords are overloaded, etc. Intentional fire-setting was the fourth leading cause of home fires and the fifth highest reason for home fire deaths. According to death certificate data from all intentional fire deaths (not just home fires), nearly two-thirds of intentional fire deaths were suicides. Although smoking materials ranked fifth in terms of home fires, they caused the most amount of home fire deaths during this time period. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 17 percent of adults smoked combustible tobacco products in 2017. We know what causes fires. We know how to prevent most of them. We have made progress. Reported home fires and home fire deaths have been cut roughly in half since 1980. The 2019 rate of 8.4 home fire deaths per million population was 63 percent lower than the 22.9 deaths per million population in 1980. Even so, home fires still kill approximately 2,600 people per year. That's an average of seven people dying in home fires every day! Far too many by all accounts. While almost all homes have at least one smoke alarm, roughly three out of five home fire deaths in 2014-2018 resulted from fires in homes which lacked any  smoke alarms (41 percent) or that featured at least one alarm that was inoperable (16 percent). Ensuring that every home has working smoke alarms is critical – a message that NFPA has been sharing far and wide for years. Furthermore, fire sprinklers were present in only 7 percent of reported home fires. Home fire sprinklers can control well before the fire department gets there, as communicated by the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative which offers a wide array of resource materials to support local sprinkler advocacy efforts. As the author of NFPA's Home Structure Fires report, I want to personally thank the firefighters, life safety educators, and others who work so hard to prevent fires and to protect people from the fires that do occur. I hope that this report can be one weapon in the fight against fire. For more specific information about the fire causes mentioned in the beginning of this piece, please check out the statistical reports under US Fire Problem on our website.  And please -- help us, help you. What types of fire experience statistics would help you in your work? Those of us who work in offices want to learn from those of you working in the field.

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