Approximately 79% of building fires in the United States occur in residential buildings. Americans pay a high price for these fires — not just in funds, but with their lives. Around one fatality takes place for every 136 residential fires.
Unfortunately, the amount of deaths due to home fires is steadily rising. According to areport from FEMA, from 2009 to 2018, there has been a 4% increase in residential fires along with an alarming 13% increase in deaths. And from the years 2008 to 2017,97%of deaths and 92% of injuries sustained in building fires occurred in residential buildings.
Non-residential fires suffer a rate of 0.82 related fatalities per 1,000 fires. For residences, the loss is an unacceptable 7.3 people for per 1,000 fires.
What causes residential fires and why are they so dangerous?
The causes of residential fires are well known — cooking accounts for slightly over 50%, while careless behavior is behind 7% of home fires.
The increased danger is often a result of inhabitants being asleep when the fire starts. However, demographics play a factor into the danger level as well. Retirement aged adults over 65 make up only 17% of the population, but that group accounted for 40% of fire-related deaths according to the most recent FEMA data.
Furthermore, the growing popularity of multi unit residential buildings and communal facilities create a challenging environment for firefighters. Homes are closer together which allows fires to escalate quickly. It is also difficult for firefighters to locate fires in large complexes because typical GPS does not show locations of apartment units or other multi-unit buildings. The loss in time trying to locate the source of the fire steals critical minutes that firefighters need in order to subdue a fire before it gets out of control.
How can firefighters face this growing challenge?
Multi-unit structures are, by definition, much more complicated than single-family homes. In order to minimize the growing potential for deaths, injuries, and property loss, firefighters must step up their efforts into creating accurate pre-plans that outline critical locations, like apartment units and fire hydrants.
Acquiring the following data points in advance and having them electronically available while en-route can make critical differences. Benefits include:
Accurate apartment locations.The ability to quickly identify an apartment number based on outdoor observations or calls for help. Knowing the location of tenants likely to have difficulty self-evacuating. Understanding the quickest way to reach any apartment from outside the building.
Firefighting infrastructure.Pre-arrival awareness of the location of FACPs, annunciators, knox boxes, dry pipes, hydrants, and shut-off valves.
Access points.Identifying all entrances, exits, access to roofs and attics, along with stairways and elevators. EMTs and paramedics need to know in advance which elevators are big enough to transport stretchers.
Hazard awareness.Knowing about potential safety hazards beforehand, like the presence of solar panels (and location of their shut off valves) or swimming pools covered in snow.
Thomas Melia, a firefighter from the Salinas Fire Department, stresses the importance of accurate pre-plans. “When it comes to emergency response time,” he said in an interview with One Hundred Feet, “the difference between a life saved and a life lost can come down to seconds.”
A firefighter’s primary responsibility is to save lives. Careful, detailed pre-planning allows firefighters to gain situational awareness while en-route that can dramatically improve the outcome of the residential fires.
The good news is that developing technologies can store and deliver important, timely data in ways that can make a true difference. Aggregated from multiple sources (public and private) the keys to providing life saving results can now be as close as a computer tablet (or in some cases a heads up display) and available to everyone involved in the call.