Published on January 5, 2023.

Data Works

Quality fire data has already generated an array of important safety steps


History is replete with examples large and small of where quality fire data led society down a path it might otherwise have never known to travel.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, data gathered by fire departments and insurance companies in the United States revealed that the number of children dying in fires was climbing, and that preschoolers playing with fire was the leading cause of death for the age group. Citing those statistics, in 1994 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission began mandating that the 600 million disposable butane lighters sold in the nation each year had to be made with child-resistant features.

The results over the last three decades have been dramatic. Home fires caused by kids playing with fire declined from 24,000 each year in the early 1990s to fewer than 5,000 annually in 2018, according to NFPA research. Meanwhile, the yearly number of civilian deaths due to children playing with fire fell 85 percent over that same period, from 330 to 50.

Data has also led the drive for the near-universal use of smoke detectors in the developed world, and to the growing use of fire sprinklers in public and residential spaces. It has influenced aspects of how modern structures are designed, maintained, and built. None of it would likely have happened had we not looked at big-picture trends—things that can only be known through a detailed cataloging of the fires that have taken place and the circumstances that surrounded them. 

The List

The 14 fire incident variables identified by EU FireStat as priorities for all EU member states to collect in a harmonized way:

  • Number of fatalities
  • Number of injuries
  • Incident location
  • Incident date
  • Incident time
  • Age of fatalities
  • Primary causal factor
  • Type of building occupancy
  • Number of floors
  • Area of origin
  • Heat source
  • Articles contributing to fire development
  • Item first ignited
  • Fire safety measures present
JESSE ROMAN is senior editor of NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images