Risk Reduction Efforts in Your Community

Executive Summary
Fire departments in the United States responded to nearly 1.3 million fire calls in 2015.1
The U.S. fire problem no longer ranks as the most severe of the industrialized nations,
yet thousands of Americans die each year, tens of thousands of people are injured, and
property losses reach billions of dollars. There are huge indirect costs of fire as well,
including temporary lodging, lost business revenues, medical expenses, psychological
damage, and others. To put this into context, the annual losses from floods, hurricanes,
tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters combined in the U.S. average just a
fraction of those from fires.2 The public, the media and local governments are generally
unaware of the magnitude and seriousness of the fire problem and how it affects
individuals and their families, communities and the nation.
Purpose and scope
The National Fire Data Center (NFDC) of the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) periodically
publishes “Fire in the United States,” a statistical overview of the fires in the U.S., with the
focus on the latest year in which data was available. This report provides the fire service
and others with information that motivates corrective action, sets priorities, targets
specific fire programs, serves as a model for state and local analyses of fire data, and
provides a baseline for evaluating programs.
This 19th edition covers the 10-year period from 2006 to 2015, with a primary focus on
2015.3 The report addresses the overall national fire problem. Detailed analyses of the
residential and nonresidential fire problem, firefighter casualties, and other subsets of
the national fire problem are not included. These topic-specific analyses are addressed
as separate, stand-alone publications.
The primary source of data is from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) annual survey results, mortality data from
the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), data from state fire marshals’ offices or
their equivalents, population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and inflation adjustments
from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) are also used. Because
of the time it takes for states to submit data to the USFA from the thousands of fire
departments that participate in the NFIRS, then obtain corrections and edit the data, and
analyze and display the results, the publication lags behind the date of data collection.
Fortunately, the fire problem does not change very rapidly, so the data is usually quite
representative of the situation in the year of publication as well.
1
NFPA, “Fire Loss in the United States During 2015,” September 2016.
2National Weather Service (NWS), National Hazard Statistics, 2015: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats/
sum15.pdf. 3Only native NFIRS Version 5.0 data was used for NFIRS-based analyses. By Jan. 1, 2009, NFIRS 4.1 data was no
longer accepted by the system.
2 Fire in the United States 2006-2015
National problem
Annual deaths from fire in the U.S. were estimated at 12,000 in 1974, the year in which
the USFA was established.4 At that time, a goal was set for reducing this number by half
within a generation. This goal was met. By 2012, NFPA estimates of civilian deaths were at
their lowest level (2,855). While fire deaths are still trending downward, in 2015, the NFPA
estimates of fire deaths were 15 percent higher than they were in 2012.5
Table 1 presents 10-year fire and fire-loss rate trends. Fires per million population reached
a new low in 2013, continuing the downward trend. Dollar loss per capita decreased 26
percent over the 10 years. Injuries and deaths per million population continued to decline.
The trend in the death rate (deaths per million population) declined 10 percent from 2006
to 2015, and it is less than a third of what it was in the late 1970s.6 Nevertheless, the U.S.
has a fire death rate 1.5 to 2.5 times higher than that of several European nations. Of the
28 industrialized nations examined by the World Fire Statistics Centre, the U.S. ranked as
having the 12th highest fire death rate.
Table 1. Fire and fire loss rate trends (2006-2015)
Loss measure 10-year trend (percent)
Fires per million population -25.0
Deaths per million population -9.9
Injuries per million population -14.2
Dollar loss/capita* -26.1
Sources: NFPA, CPI and U.S. Census Bureau.
*The 2006 to 2014 dollar-loss values were adjusted to 2015 dollars.
Regional and state profiles
The fire problem varies from region to region and state to state because of variations in
climate, socioeconomic status, education, demographics and other factors. In 2015, three
states (Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi) and the District of Columbia had fire death
rates that exceeded 20 deaths per million population. Twenty states, mostly situated in
the Southeast and Midwest, had death rates between 10.5 and 20 deaths per million
population. Additionally, 21 states had fire death rates below the national fire death rate —
10.5 deaths per million population. While some state death rates were still high, overall,
states have made great progress in lowering the absolute number of fire deaths and their
deaths per million population.7
4“America Burning.” The Report of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, 1973. NFPA changed
their estimation methodology in the mid-1970s. As a result, by 1977, the estimate of fire deaths had already
dropped to approximately 7,400 and rose the next year to 7,700. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the 50
percent reduction in fire deaths was achieved.
5The NFPA estimated fire deaths to be 3,280 in 2015. For the same year, the NCHS mortality data reflected
3,362 fire deaths. The NCHS mortality data suggest that fire deaths may be 2.5 percent higher than the NFPA
estimate of fire deaths.
6The fire death rate used throughout “Fire in the United States,” however, reflects the number of fire deaths
(3,362) from the 2015 NCHS mortality data. This death rate is 10.5 fire deaths per million population. In 1979, the
fire death rate was 34.8 deaths per million population, as cited in USFA’s “America Burning Revisited,” 1987, p. 15.
7This analysis includes only states where fire death rates were computed. Fire death rates were not computed
for Delaware, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming due to very small numbers
of fire deaths (fewer than 10 deaths).
Executive Summary 3
Ten states, mostly largely-populated states, accounted for 48 percent of the national total
U.S. fire deaths. Unless their fire problems are significantly reduced, the national total will
be difficult to lower.
Residences and other properties
Over the years, there has been little change in the proportion of fires, deaths, injuries and
dollar loss by the type of property involved. In terms of numbers of reported fires, the
largest category continued to be outside fires (41 percent) — in fields, vacant lots, trash,
etc. Residential and nonresidential structure fires together constituted 39 percent of fires,
with residential structure fires outnumbering nonresidential structure fires by over 3 to 1.
What may be surprising was the large proportion of vehicle fires. In fact, approximately 1
out of every 7 fires to which fire departments responded involved a vehicle.
By far, the largest percentage of reported deaths — 75 percent in 2015 — occurred on
residential properties, with the majority of these on one- and two-family properties.
Vehicles accounted for the second largest percentage of fire deaths at 18 percent. Great
attention is given to large, multiple-death fires in public places, such as hotels, nightclubs
and office buildings; however, fires that kill 10 or more people are few in number and
constitute only a small portion of overall fire deaths. Furthermore, public properties
are generally required by local codes to have built-in fire suppression systems. The area
with the largest problem is most commonly overlooked — in people’s homes. Prevention
efforts continue to focus on home fire safety.
Only 3 percent of the 2015 fire deaths occurred in nonresidential commercial and public
properties. Outside and other miscellaneous fires, including wildfires, were also a small
factor (4 percent combined) in fire deaths.
The picture was generally similar for fire injuries, with 76 percent of all reported injuries
occurring on residential properties. The remaining fire injuries were distributed across
the other property types — vehicles, 8 percent; nonresidential properties, 7 percent; and
outside and other fires, 9 percent.
The picture changes somewhat for dollar loss. While residential properties were the leading
property type for dollar loss, nonresidential properties played a considerable role. These two
general property types accounted for 81 percent of all reported dollar loss. The proportion
of dollar loss from outside fires may be understated because the destruction of trees, grass,
etc., is often given zero value in fire reports if it is not commercial cropland or timber.
Causes of fires and fire losses
Residential
At 51 percent, cooking was the leading cause of residential building fires. Heating caused
another 11 percent. These percentages (and those that follow) are adjusted, which
proportionally spreads the unknown causes over the other 15 cause categories.
The leading causes of residential fatal fires were other unintentional or careless actions at
17 percent and smoking at 14 percent. The cause category “other unintentional or careless
actions” includes the misuse of materials or products, abandoned or discarded materials
or products, heat source too close to combustibles, and other unintentional actions. The
cause was reported as under investigation in another 15 percent of the residential fatal fires.
4 Fire in the United States 2006-2015
The leading cause of residential fires that resulted in injuries was cooking (36 percent).
Cooking was, by far, the leading cause of fires resulting in dollar loss at 29 percent,
followed by electrical malfunction at 11 percent.
Nonresidential
For nonresidential building fires, cooking was the leading cause of fires (30 percent),
followed by other unintentional or careless actions (10 percent). Other unintentional or
careless actions (13 percent), cooking (12 percent), and electrical malfunctions (12 percent)
were the leading causes of fires resulting in dollar loss in nonresidential buildings.
Vehicle
Unintentional actions were the leading cause of fires and fires resulting in dollar loss in
vehicles (39 and 38 percent, respectively). In 23 percent of vehicle fires, the causes were
undetermined after the investigations. Failure of equipment or heat source, at 22 percent,
was the second leading cause of fires resulting in dollar loss.
Outside
Unintentional actions were the leading cause of fires and fires resulting in dollar loss in
outside fires (each at 43 percent). In 26 percent of outside fires and 23 percent of outside
fires resulting in dollar loss, causes were undetermined after the investigations.
Other
Just as with vehicle and outside fires, unintentional actions were the leading cause of
other fires and fires resulting in dollar loss (45 and 47 percent, respectively). Failure of
equipment or heat source was the second leading cause of other fires (20 percent) and
other fires resulting in dollar loss (25 percent).
Race, age and gender characteristics of victims
Fire losses affect all groups and races, rich and poor, Northern and Southern, urban and
rural. But the problem is greater for some groups than for others. African-Americans
and American Indians/Alaskan Native males had much higher fire death rates than the
national average. African-Americans constituted a large and disproportionate share of
total fire deaths, accounting for 21 percent of fire deaths in 2015, but only 13 percent of
the U.S. population.
Males were 1.7 times more likely to die in fires than females. The percentage of female
fire deaths in the 70 and older age group exceeded that of their male counterparts and
accounted for approximately one-third (34 percent) of all female fire deaths. Male fire
deaths, by contrast, were highest for those adults ages 50 to 69, accounting for 41 percent
of male fire deaths.
The majority of fire-related injuries occurred in adults ages 20 to 59. This age group
accounted for 63 percent of the fire injuries in 2015. Males ages 10 to 54 had a higher
proportion of injuries than females, while older adult females had more injuries than
older adult males.8
8The USFA defines older adults as ages 65 and older.
Executive Summary 5
People with limited physical and cognitive abilities, especially older adults, are at a higher
risk of death from fire than other groups. Older adults accounted for 40 percent of all fire
deaths and 15 percent of estimated fire injuries in 2015.
As baby boomers enter retirement age, the demographic profile of the U.S. is expected to
change dramatically. Over the coming decades, the older population will increase, and a
corresponding increase in fire deaths and injuries among older adults is likely.
In the past, children ages 4 and younger were also considered to be at a high risk of
death from fire; however, data indicate that the trend is changing. In 2015, the relative
risk of children ages 4 and younger dying in a fire was 30 percent less than that of the
general population.
Conclusions
This report shows that, overall, the fire problem in the U.S. continues to improve.
Currently, the 10-year fire-loss rates are down. It is likely that several factors continue to
contribute to these trends:
ĵ Smoke alarms, which have become nearly universal — The USFA continues to partner
with other government agencies and fire service entities to improve and develop new
smoke alarm technologies.
ĵ Sprinklers, which quickly combat incipient fires, especially in nonresidential and
multifamily buildings — There are major movements in the U.S. fire service to require or
facilitate use of sprinklers in all new homes, which could improve the use of residential
sprinklers in the future.
ĵ Fire codes, which have been strengthened.
ĵ Construction techniques and materials, which have been developed specifically for
fire prevention.
ĵ Public education at the community, county, state and federal levels.
ĵ Improved firefighter equipment and training.
Even considering these positive trends, the U.S. still has a major fire problem compared
with some other industrialized nations. The study and implementation of these nations’
fire prevention programs that have proved effective in reducing the number of fires and
deaths should be considered.
Other areas that continue to be of concern:
ĵ The elderly remain at high risk of death from fire.
ĵ The focus for fire injury prevention should be on adults ages 25 to 64 and those 85
and older.
ĵ African-Americans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives remain at a higher risk of
death from fire than the general population.
6 Fire in the United States 2006-2015
ĵ Outside/Wildland fires.
ĵ Data challenges still exist. Many records submitted to the NFIRS by participating
fire departments provide either incomplete or no information in some of the fields.
Additionally, in preparing this report, it is assumed that participating fire departments
have reported 100 percent of their fire incidents; however, this is not always the case.
The completeness of all the information in the NFIRS modules will contribute to the
refinement and confidence level of future analyses.
With continued enhancements to the NFIRS, data collection continues to improve. If we
better understand the relative importance of the factors that lessen the fire problem,
resources can be better targeted to have the most impact.
Prevention and other resources
The USFA develops and delivers fire prevention and safety education programs in partnership
with other federal agencies, the fire and emergency response community, the media, and
safety interest groups. The USFA also works with public and private groups to promote and
improve fire prevention and life safety through research, testing and evaluation.
ĵ The USFA’s outreach materials and educational programs are available at https://www.
usfa.fema.gov/prevention.
ĵ Smoke alarm information on technologies, performance, disposal and storage,
training bulletins, and public education and outreach materials is available at https://
www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/technology/smoke_fire_alarms.html. The USFA’s
position statement on smoke alarms is available at https://www.usfa.fema.gov/about/
smoke_alarms_position.html.
ĵ Residential sprinkler information on costs and benefits, performance, training
bulletins, and public education and outreach materials is available at https://www.
usfa.fema.gov/prevention/technology/home_fire_sprinklers.html. The USFA’s position
statement on residential sprinklers is also available at https://www.usfa.fema.gov/
about/sprinklers_position.html.
ĵ The USFA sponsors research and conducts studies to support emergency responder
health and safety and help fire departments prepare for and respond to fire, natural
disasters, nonfire emergencies, and other threats and vulnerabilities. Information on
fire department operations, management and safety is available at https://www.usfa.
fema.gov/operations.
To comment on this specific report, visit https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/contact/dataReportEval?
reportTitle=Fire%20in%20the%20United%20States%20(2006-2015).
Introduction 7
Fire in the United States 2006-2015
19th Edition
Introduction
In 1973, the president’s Commission on Fire Prevention and Control published “America
Burning.” This document was the first in-depth discussion of this country’s fire problem —
the most severe of the industrialized nations. The report prompted a national awareness
about the depth of the fire problem and the need for prevention efforts. By 1987, when
a second commission was assembled, much progress had been made toward addressing
the nation’s fire problem. Among other objectives, “America Burning Revisited” redefined
the strategies needed to further reduce loss of life and property to fire. As a direct result
of these efforts and others like them, the U.S.’s fire problem no longer ranks as the
most severe of the industrialized nations. Nonetheless, the U.S. continues to experience
fire death rates 1.5 to 2.5 times higher than those of most of its sister nations.9 Many
Americans are not aware of this nor the nature of the fire problem.
This report is a statistical portrait of fire in the U.S. It is intended for use by a wide
audience, including the fire service, the media, researchers, industry, government agencies
and interested citizens. The report focuses on the national fire problem. Emphasized
topics include the magnitude and trends of the fire problem, the causes of fires, where
they occur, and who gets hurt.
This document is the 19th major edition of “Fire in the United States” published by the
USFA. It covers the 10-year period from 2006 to 2015, with a primary focus on 2015. The
previous editions have included:
ĵ First edition, published in 1978, included 1975 and 1976 fire data.
ĵ Second edition, published in 1982, included 1977 and 1978 fire data.
ĵ Third through fifth editions produced as working papers, but not published.
ĵ Sixth edition, published in 1987, included 1983 fire data.
ĵ Seventh edition, published in 1990, included 1983 to 1987 fire data.
ĵ Eighth edition, published in 1993, included 1983 to 1990 fire data.
ĵ Ninth edition, published in 1997, included 1985 to 1994 fire data, and it focused on the
residential/nonresidential fire problem, as well as firefighter casualties.
ĵ Tenth edition, published in 1998, included 1986 to 1995 fire data, and it provided a
state-by-state profile of fires and an examination of firefighter casualties.
ĵ Eleventh edition, published in 1999, included 1987 to 1996 fire data, and it focused on
the residential/nonresidential fire problem, as well as firefighter casualties.
9The Geneva Association, “World Fire Statistics,” Bulletin, Number 29, April 2014, https://www.
genevaassociation.org/sites/default/files/research-topics-document-type/pdf_public//ga2014-wfs29.pdf.
As reported, the U.S. had a fire death rate of 1.11 fire deaths per 100,000 population for 2008 to 2010; the
Netherlands had the lowest comparable European fire death rate at 0.46 per 100,000 population. Switzerland’s
fire death rate was lower still at 0.34, but it excluded firefighter deaths.
8 Fire in the United States 2006-2015
ĵ Twelfth edition, published in 2001, included 1989 to 1998 fire data and was the last
edition to use the NFIRS 4.1 data system. It included analyses of all of the previous
topics under one cover: residential and nonresidential fire problems, state-by-state
profiles, and firefighter casualties.
ĵ Thirteenth edition, published in 2004, included 1992 to 2001 fire data and was the first
edition to include the new NFIRS 5.0 data in the analyses. It included the residential
and nonresidential fire problem, as well as firefighter casualties.
ĵ Fourteenth edition, published in 2007, included 1995 to 2004 fire data, with a primary
focus on 2004. For the first time, only native NFIRS 5.0 data was used for NFIRS-based
analyses. It addressed the overall national fire problem and provided detailed analyses
of the residential and nonresidential fire problem. Firefighter casualties and other
subsets of the national fire problem were not included.
ĵ Fifteenth edition, published in 2009, covered the five-year period of 2003 to 2007,
with a primary focus on 2007. As in the 14th edition, only native NFIRS 5.0 data was
used for NFIRS-based analyses.10 This report addressed only the overall national fire
problem. Detailed analyses of the residential and nonresidential fire problem, firefighter
casualties, and other subsets of the national fire problem were addressed as separate,
stand-alone publications.
ĵ Sixteenth edition, published in 2013, was entirely web-based and covered the five-year
period of 2007 to 2011, with a primary focus on 2011. The document was renamed “Data
Sources and Methodology Documentation,” with all of the data presented in an Excel file.
ĵ Seventeenth edition, published in 2016, covered the 10-year period of 2004 to 2013,
with a primary focus on 2013. This report addressed the overall national fire problem
and was published as a PDF document.
ĵ Eighteenth edition, published in 2017, covered the 10-year period of 2005 to 2014, with
a primary focus on 2014. This report addressed the overall national fire problem and
was published as a PDF document.

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