Structure Fires in Residential Board and Care Facilities
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2010
By Jennifer D. Flynn
In 2003–2007, U.S. municipal fire departments responded to an estimated average of 2,070 structure fires in residential board and care facilities annually. These fires resulted in 10 civilian fire deaths, 70 civilian injuries, and $10.9 million in direct property damage each year.
Cooking equipment was the leading cause of residential board and care structure fires and was involved in one of every four fires reported in this property group. Heating equipment was the second leading cause of fires in these properties. Cooking equipment and smoking materials were the leading cause of civilian fire injuries in these properties, although only 3 percent of reported residential board and care fires involved smoking materials.
Structure fires in residential board and care facilities peak between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and the peak months for fires in these properties are November and December. Only 4 percent of fires in residential board and care facilities extended beyond the room of origin.
When the fire was large enough to activate the sprinklers, 98 percent of automatic extinguishing equipment operated and was 100 percent effective when it operated. In 2003–2007, 43 percent of reported fires in residential board and care facilities were in properties with some type of automatic extinguishing equipment. In comparison, 16 percent of reported fires in apartments, 33 percent of reported fires in boarding and rooming houses, 48 percent of reported fires in hotels and motels, and 70 percent of reported fires in nursing homes occurred in properties with automatic extinguishing equipment.
An estimated average of 410 outside and other fires and an average of 30 vehicle fires were reported on these properties per year.
These statistics are national estimates of fires reported to U.S. municipal fire departments and exclude fires reported only to federal or state agencies or industrial fire brigades. National estimates are projections based on the detailed information collected in Version 5.0 of the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System and NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey.
Home Fires Involving Cooking Equipment
By Marty Ahrens
Cooking is, and has long been, the leading cause of home structure fires and civilian home fire injuries. This is true for both fires reported to fire departments and those handled without fire department assistance.
During the four-year period of 2003–2006, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 150,200 home structure fires in which cooking equipment was involved in the ignition or in which the fire department used an incident type that identified a cooking fire that did not spread beyond the cooking vessel. These fires caused an average of 500 civilian deaths, 4,660 reported civilian fire injuries, and $756 in direct property damage. Overall, these incidents accounted for 40 percent of all reported home fires, 17 percent of home fire deaths, 36 percent of home civilian injuries, and 12 percent of property damage from home fires.
Ranges or cook tops were the heat sources in 59 percent of the reported home fires involving cooking equipment, 88 percent of the civilian deaths, 77 percent of the civilian injuries, and 69 percent of the associated direct property damages. The leading factors contributing to ignition for 2003–2006 non-confined home structure fires involving cooking equipment were unattended equipment (38 percent), heat source too close to combustibles (12 percent), unintentionally turned on or not turned off (10 percent), and abandoned or discarded material or products (8 percent). (NFIRS incident type 1113 is used to identify a cooking fire confined to the vessel of origin. Additional causal information is not routinely required on these incidents.) Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges.
The majority of non-confined home structure fires involving cooking equipment began with the ignition of cooking materials or food. Clothing was the item first ignited in only 1 percent of these fires, but clothing ignitions led to 13 percent of the home cooking equipment fire deaths.
The statistics on fires involving cooking equipment reported to local fire departments represent a tiny fraction of all home fires involving home cooking equipment. An analysis of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC’s) 2004–2005 Residential Fire Survey found that U.S. households handled an average of 4.7 million home fires involving cooking equipment per year without having the fire department on scene. Roughly one of every 23 occupied households had a cooking fire.
Three-fifths , or 57 percent, of civilian injuries suffered in reported non-confined home structure fires involving cooking equipment occurred while the victim was trying to fight the fire, compared to one-third, or 35 percent, of injuries suffered in any other type of home structure fire. The ratio of 50 unreported home cooking fires found by the CPSC in its 2004–2005 Residential Fire Survey for every reported home cooking fire shows that the overwhelming majority of home cooking fires are handled safely by individuals without fire department assistance.
Compared to their share of the population, children under the age of 5 and adults 65 years of age and older faced the highest risk of death from home fires that involve cooking equipment. Young children were at much lower risk of a non-fatal fire injury from cooking equipment. These patterns are consistent with the findings from overall home fires. However, children under 5 face a much higher risk of non-fire burn injuries from cooking equipment, tableware, and cookware.
Based on data from the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, children under 5 suffered an estimated 6,680 thermal non-fire burns associated with ranges or ovens, with most caused by contact with the equipment; 2,900 scald burns associated with tableware such as coffee cups and soup bowls; 1,970 thermal non-fire burns (mostly contact burns) associated with grills or barbecues; 1,100 scald burns from cookware such as pots and pans; 990 burns from contact with hot cookware; 910 scald burns from ranges or ovens; and 450 scald burns associated with microwave ovens.
Natural Gas and LP-Gas Home Structure Fires
By Jennifer D. Flynn
In 2003–2007, natural gas, including methane and marsh gas, was the type of material first ignited in an estimated annual average of 3,070 home fires. These fires resulted in an estimated 43 civilian deaths, 168 civilian fire injuries, and $60.6 million in direct property damage. More than three of every five, or 69 percent of, natural gas home fires were structure fires, while 31 percent were outside or other fires. From 2002–2007, home structure fires in which natural gas was first ignited have fallen 19 percent.
Almost half, or 45 percent, of the reported natural gas non-confined home structure fires occurred in single-story buildings. Twenty-six percent of these fires occurred in two-story buildings, and 25 percent were reported in three- and four-story buildings. More than three-quarters of non-confined natural gas fires began on the first floor. Ten percent began below the first floor, and 13 percent were reported on levels higher than the first floor.
During the same time period, LP-Gas, including butane, butane and air mixtures, and propane, was the type of material first ignited in an estimated annual average of 4,290 home fires. These fires resulted in an estimated 34 civilian deaths, 158 civilian fire injuries, and $49.1 million in direct property damage. One out of 4, or 27 percent of, LP-Gas home fires were structure fires, while 72 percent were outside and other fires. From 2002–2007, home structure fires in which LP-Gas was first ignited have fallen 15 percent.
In home structure fires, for both types of gases, the kitchen or cooking area was the leading area of origin for fires, and leaks or breaks were the leading factor contributing to ignition. The leading heat sources were sparks, embers, or flames from operating equipment. For fires in which natural gas was first ignited, the stove was the leading equipment involved. For LP-Gas fires, the leading equipment involved was a grill, hibachi, or barbecue.
More than half, or 56 percent, of LP-Gas non-confined home structure fires occurred in single-story buildings. Eighty-three percent of reported fires began on the first floor. Another 11 percent of fires began below the first floor.
These statistics are national estimates of fires reported to U.S. municipal fire departments and so exclude fires reported only to federal or state agencies or industrial fire brigades. National estimates are projections based on the detailed information collected in Version 5.0 of the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System and NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey.
U.S. Experience with Sprinklers and Other Automatic Fire Extinguishing Equipment
By John R. Hall, Jr.
Automatic sprinklers are highly effective and reliable elements of total system designs for fire protection in buildings. In 2003–2007, sprinklers operated in 93 percent of all reported structure fires large enough to activate sprinklers, excluding buildings under construction and buildings without sprinklers in the fire area. When sprinklers operate, they are effective 97 percent of the time, resulting in a combined performance of operating effectively in 91 percent of all reported fires where sprinklers were present in the fire area and the fire was large enough to activate them. The combined performance for the more widely used wet-pipe sprinklers is 92 percent, while for dry-pipe sprinklers, the combined performance is only 79 percent. In homes, including apartments, wet-pipe sprinklers operated effectively 96 percent of the time. By comparison, combined performance is 60 percent for dry chemical systems, 79 percent for carbon dioxide systems, 81 percent for foam systems, and 88 percent for halogen systems. (Wet chemical systems may be included with dry chemical systems or with other special hazard systems.) These most current statistics are based on 2003–2007 fires reported to U.S. fire departments, excluding buildings under construction and cases of failure or ineffectiveness because of a lack of sprinklers in the fire area and after some recoding between failure and ineffectiveness based on reasons given.
When wet-pipe sprinklers are present in structures that are not under construction and excluding cases of failure or ineffectiveness because of a lack of sprinklers in the fire area, the fire death rate per 1,000 reported home structure fires is lower by 83 percent, and the rate of property damage per reported structure fire is lower by 40 to 70 percent for most property uses. In homes, including apartments, wet-pipe sprinklers were associated with a 74 percent lower average loss per fire. In addition, when sprinklers are present in structures that are not under construction and excluding cases of failure or ineffectiveness because of a lack of sprinklers in the fire area, 95 percent of reported structure fires have flame damage confined to the room of origin compared to 74 percent when no automatic extinguishing equipment is present.
Of reported 2003–2007 structure fires in health care properties, an estimated 57 percent showed sprinklers present, with higher percentages for hospitals (71 percent) and nursing homes (65 percent) and a much lower percentage for clinics and doctor’s offices (28 percent). Sprinklers were also reported as present in half or more of all reported fires in laboratories (60 percent), manufacturing facilities (52 percent), theaters (50 percent), and prisons and jails (50 percent). In every other property use, more than half of all reported fires occurred in properties that had no sprinklers.
The few surveys that have been done of sprinkler presence in general, not limited to fires, have found that in any property group, the percentage of buildings with sprinklers is much higher than the percentage of reported fires with sprinklers present. Sprinklers apparently are still rare in many of the places where people are most exposed to fire, including educational properties, offices, most stores, and especially homes, where most fire deaths occur. There is considerable potential for expanded use of sprinklers to reduce the loss of life and property to fire.
When sprinklers fail to operate, the reason most often given (53 percent of failures) was shutoff of the system before the fire began, as may occur in the course of routine inspection maintenance. Other leading reasons were inappropriate system for the type of fire (20 percent), lack of maintenance (15 percent), and manual intervention that defeated the system (9 percent). Only 2 percent of sprinkler failures were attributed to component damage.
When sprinklers operate but are ineffective, the reason usually had to do with an insufficiency of water applied to the fire, either because water did not reach the fire (43 percent of cases of ineffective performance) or because not enough water was released (31 percent). Other leading reasons were inappropriate system for the type of fire (12 percent), manual intervention that defeated the system (5 percent), and lack of maintenance (4 percent). Only 4 percent of cases of sprinkler ineffectiveness were attributed to component damage.
When people are fatally injured in spite of the operation of wet-pipe sprinklers, the victims often had special vulnerabilities that are less often found with fatal victims of home fires in general. For example,
- 93 percent of fatalities in home fires with wet-pipe sprinkler operation were located in the area of fire origin, where they could have suffered fatal injuries before sprinkler activation, compared to 53 percent of fatal home fire victims in general;
- 30 percent of fatalities in home fires with wet-pipe sprinkler operation had their clothing on fire, compared to 7 percent of fatal home fire victims in general;
- 50 percent of fatalities in home fires with wet-pipe sprinkler operation were age 65 or older, compared to 28 percent of fatal home fire victims in general; and
- 37 percent of fatalities in home fires with wet-pipe sprinkler operation returned to the fire after escaping, compared to 19 percent of fatal home fire victims in general.