Over the past several decades, deaths from home structure fires in the United States have steadily gone down – from 5,200 in 1980 to 2,755 in 2013, according to
Injury Facts 2016®.
But even one death from a preventable fire is too many. While fire doesn't discriminate by age, it is the third leading cause of death for children ages 2 to 14. In 2013, 202 children in this age group died from fire and smoke inhalation.
As we look at the causes of home structure fires – smoking, heating equipment, electricity – all major causes have decreased, except for one. Candle-related fires are up 125%. Most deaths from fire occurred during the fall and winter months, which includes the candle-heavy holiday season.
A Christmas Tragedy
On Christmas Day 2011,
firefighters in Stamford, Conn., made the painful decision to pull back during a battle to extinguish a house fire, knowing full well people still were trapped inside. Conditions were too dangerous for firefighters to proceed, and rescue efforts were futile. The tragedy left even the most hardened crew members devastated.
Five members of one family died: 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger, 9-year-old Lily Badger and their grandparents, Pauline and Lomer Johnson. They all were reportedly sleeping on the second floor when the fire engulfed their home.
Smoke Alarms Dramatically Reduce Fatalities
The cards were stacked against firefighters from the beginning because of how far the fire had spread before crews were notified, according to Stamford Deputy Fire Chief William Smith III. Fire officials determined
the blaze was caused by embers from a fireplace that had been taken to a mudroom or trash enclosure on the first floor. The ashes still were hot, according to Chief Fire Marshal Barry Callahan.
Less than one month after the fatal fire in Stamford, Deputy Chief Smith and fellow firefighters embarked on a mission with First Alert to install smoke detectors in every home. Working smoke alarms cut the chances of dying in a house fire in half.
For Your Protection
NSC provides the following tips to keep your home safe from fire:
both types of smoke alarms (ionization and photoelectric) and carbon monoxide alarms; change the batteries at least once a year in these devices
Plan – and practice – an escape route and agree on a meeting place outside of your home; be prepared to assist young children, family members with special needs and pets
Know two ways out of every room in the home
- Learn how to use your fire extinguisher
- If your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop and roll
- When evacuating, if door handles are hot, pick an alternate route; learn two ways out of every room
- Leave your house and call for help; do not go back to help someone else
Extra Precautions to Keep Children Safe
U.S. Fire Administration offers these tips to keep children safe from fire and burns:
- Keep children 3 feet away from anything hot, like candles, space heaters and stove-tops
- Keep smoking materials locked up in a high place; never leave cigarette lighters or matches where children can reach them
- Never play with lighters or matches when you are with your children; they may try to imitate you
Resources for Public Educators
NFPA offers lots of information and tools to help teachers
bring fire safety to the classroom.