Civilian Fire Injuries

USFA Releases Civilian Fire Injuries in Residential Buildings Report

WASHINGTON D.C. Ė The Department of Homeland Security's United States Fire Administration (USFA) today issued a report, part of its Topical Fire Report Series, examining the causes and characteristics of civilian fire injuries occurring in residential buildings. Nearly three-quarters of all civilian fire injuries occur in the home. In 2005, there were an estimated 13,375 civilian fire injuries resulting from an estimated 376,500 residential building fires.

Thirty-nine percent of residential building fire injuries occurred while victims were trying to control the fire. An additional 23 percent of civilians were injured when trying to escape; another 11 percent happened while victims were sleeping.

"Most civilian fire injuries are preventable," said United States Fire Administrator Greg Cade. "If a fire occurs in your home, it is important to exit your home quickly and leave firefighting to professional firefighters. By establishing and practicing a home fire escape plan, you can help reduce the chances of fire injury or even death if a fire were to occur in your home."
The report, Civilian Fire Injuries in Residential Buildings in 2005 (PDF, 480 Kb), was developed by the National Fire Data Center, part of USFA. The report is based on 2005 data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).

The short topical reports are designed to explore facets of the U.S. fire problem as depicted through data collected in NFIRS. Each topical report briefly addresses the nature of the specific fire or fire-related topic, highlights important findings from the data, and may suggest other resources to consider for further information. Also included are recent examples of fire incidents that demonstrate some of the issues addressed in the report or that put the report topic in context.

U.S. Fire Administration ∑ U.S. Department of Homeland Security ∑ Emmitsburg, MD 21727 ∑ (301) 447-1000



Smoke Detectors: Things you need to know


Smoke detectors

In the early 1990s Texas A&M University did a full scale scientific investigation into the effectiveness of optical and ionization smoke detectors in different types of fires. The study determined that in a smoldering fire, with its relatively low number of large smoke particles, optical detectors fail 4.06% of the time, while ionization detectors fail 55.8%. For flame ignition fires, which have a large number of small, energetic smoke particles, optical smoke detectors had a 3.99% probability of failure while ionization smoke detectors failed 19.8%.

In 2004, NIST issued a comprehensive report entitled Performance of Home Smoke Alarms - Analysis of the Response of Several Available Technologies in Residential Fire Settings. The report concludes, among other things, that "smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provided time for occupants to escape from most residential fires", and "consistent with prior findings, ionization type alarms provided somewhat better response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms, and photoelectric alarms provided (often) considerably faster response to smoldering fires than ionization type alarms".

The National Fire Protection Agency has issued a fact sheet urging the replacement of home smoke alarms every 10 years.



Most residential smoke detectors run on 9 volt alkaline batteries. If these batteries run out, the smoke detector will become inactive. Smoke detectors are required to signal a low battery condition, but it is common for houses to have smoke detectors with dead batteries. As a result, public information campaigns have been created to remind people to change their smoke detector batteries regularly. In regions using daylight saving time, these campaigns usually suggest that people change their batteries when they change their clocks.

Some detectors are also being sold with a lithium battery that can run for about 7 to 10 years, though this might actually make it less likely for people to change batteries since their replacement is needed so infrequently. By that time, the whole detector should be replaced. Though relatively expensive, user-replaceable 9 volt lithium batteries (in the same configuration as the common alkaline ones) are also available. They should only be used in a fairly new detector.

Smoke detectors with missing batteries are also a concern. As a result, many detectors sold today are designed to provide a visual indication of a missing battery. One popular brand of smoke detector will not allow the user to close the battery door until a battery has been placed in the alarm; another contains a spring-loaded protrusion obstructing the attachment holes when the battery is missing, preventing reattachment to the wall or ceiling and making a missing battery situation immediately obvious. Some local governments do not permit the installation of smoke detectors with removable batteries.

In new construction, most building codes today require smoke detectors that are wired to the main electricity flow of buildings. Many of these units also include a battery backup to ensure operation during a power outage.

Rechargeable batteries should never be used in smoke detectors, since common NiMH and NiCd rechargeable batteries have a short life in between chargesóin other words, they self-discharge relatively quickly. This is true even though they may provide much more power than alkaline batteries if used soon after charging (such as in a Walkman stereo). Also, a problem particularly prevalent in older technology rechargeable is a rapid voltage drop at the end of their useful charge.

This is concerning in devices like smoke detectors since the battery may transition from "charged" to "dead" so quickly that the low battery warning from the detector is either very brief, or may not occur at all

.A quality alkaline battery should be installed and replaced every six months or so. The used battery will still probably have the majority of its charge, and can be reused in less critical applications such as a backup for a digital alarm clock. For those living in areas that observe daylight saving time, one handy way to remember this important maintenance event is to replace your smoke detector batteries the same day you adjust your clocks for the new season.



Smoke detectors are required to be equipped with a "test" button. Alternatively, artificial smoke can be purchased, which has the advantage of also testing the detector itself. Many people simply wave a lit match underneath the detector to test it, however this is dangerous as it can set the smoke alarm and the rest of the house on fire. A better way is to blow out a match and wave the smoking match under the detector.

National Fire Protection Association through its fire protection program urges homeowners to replace smoke detector batteries every six months when changing your clock for daylight savings time.


Installation and placement

In the United States, most state and local laws regarding the required number and placement of smoke detectors are based upon standards established in Article 72 of NFPA fire code.

Laws governing the installation of smoke detectors vary depending on the locality. Homeowners with questions or concerns regarding smoke detector placement are encouraged to contact their local fire marshal or building inspector for assistance. However, there are some rules and guidelines that are relatively consistent throughout the country. In older existing homes, smoke detectors are generally required on every habitable level and within the vicinity of all bedrooms. Habitable levels include attics that are tall enough to allow access. In new construction, the minimum requirements are typically much greater. All smoke detectors must be hooked directly to the electrical wiring, be interconnected and have a battery backup. In addition, smoke detectors are required either inside or outside every bedroom, depending on local codes. Smoke detectors on the outside will detect fires more quickly; assuming the fire does not begin in the bedroom, but the sound of the alarm will be reduced and may not wake some people. Some areas also require smoke detectors in stairways, main hallways and garages.

Detectors on the ceiling should be placed several inches away from any wall. If the ceiling is not flat, the detector should be placed at or near the highest point. If the highest point is a small recess, then the detector should be placed at the next highest level. Detectors placed on the wall should be several inches, but no more than a foot, from the top. Detectors should not be placed on a wall if the ceiling has a deep recess or if the ceiling slopes steeply or for a long distance. Detectors should be several horizontal feet away from a heating or cooling register, window, corner, the edge of a ceiling fan's sweep and doors to a kitchen or bathroom. They should be placed as far as possible away from combustion sources, like oil and gas-fired furnaces, space heaters, clothes dryers and water heaters, without compromising coverage or safety. Smoke detectors in a basement should be placed at the bottom of the stairs and an additional detector should be placed in or near sleeping areas in the basement.

It is recommended, and sometimes required, that smoke detectors not be placed in kitchens because the small amounts of smoke and particulates generated while cooking can set them off. Detectors should not be placed in a bathroom or near a bathroom door because moisture may cause false alarms or damage the detector. False alarms reduce the effectiveness of smoke detectors in preventing harm and property damage because people soon begin to assume that the alarm is false. Heat detectors, which sound an alarm when the temperature reaches a certain point and/or when it climbs more rapidly than a certain rate, can be used in kitchens, garages and areas with combustion sources that would otherwise generate nuisance alarms.



Driver Safety: Tips for safely maneuvering in front of an emergency vehicle


A problem often faced by firefighters, paramedics and police are drivers who do not become aware of the approaching emergency vehicles until the last moment, then panic and stop wherever they happen to be.

We encounter drivers who stop in the middle of an intersection or in the left lane.  This complicates the situation when other vehicles have done their best to pull to the right or out of the intersection.  Motorists who fail to pull to the right make the available roadway very narrow for emergency vehicles to get through.

Emergency personnel understand the sudden surge of surprise motorists normally experience at the sound and sight of a fire truck, ambulance or police car rapidly approaching with siren and flashing lights.  But itís important to think ahead.  Train yourself to instinctively pull to the right at the sound/sight of emergency vehicles, just as you automatically slow and stop for school buses when their yellow and red lights begin flashing.

When driving, take a hint from other drivers.  When you notice vehicles pulling to the right edge of the road on both sides, do the same and stay there until all emergency vehicles have passed.


What all drivers SHOULD do:

 Remain calm and move your vehicle appropriately, as noted below.  DONíT PANIC!

 You canít go wrong by pulling to the right and come to a stop.  Thatís the general rule in all cases.  When you are in the right lane, pull onto the shoulder if there is room and stop or at least slow way down if you are on an open high-speed road.

 When you are in the left lane and traffic in the right lane is moving onto the shoulder, move right into their lane.  If you can not go right because of an obstacle, such as a car in the right lane when youíre in the left lane, the next best thing is to STOP.  The driver of an emergency vehicle can then anticipate where to move his vehicle.  If you are continuing to travel, someone else might not see the response vehicle or respond inappropriately.  If you are moving, you are at risk of collision.

 When you are at an intersection with a stop sign or red light and a response vehicle is coming up behind you, stay where you are if you cannot pull to the right.

 If you are on a one-way street, pulling to the right is still best, but sometimes, due to traffic, you may pull to the left curb and yield the middle lane(s).  This is one appropriate exception to the ďpull rightĒ rule.


What all drivers should NOT do:

 DONíT stop in the middle of the lane when there is room to pull right.

 DONíT pull to the left in the center yellow lane or left turn lane.

 DONíT drive through a red light or stop sign when an emergency vehicle approaches from behind.

 DONíT make a left turn quickly to a driveway or street.

 DONíT race ahead to get through a green light or turn before the response vehicle gets there.

 DONíT disregard and continue to travel despite the response vehicle.



Displaying Your Address


Emergency responders are expected to respond to an emergency and provide assistance.  A faster response, helps to minimize damages and promotes a shorter 'down-time' for those involved.  Our emergency response apparatus are maintained as best as possible, but, they are limited to their maneuverability and quickness.  Our apparatus operators are required to have a higher class of driver's license and attend Emergency Vehicle Operator training.  An earlier column, in this letter, touched upon what drivers can do to assist emergency responding apparatus.  This column will touch upon how the property owner can assist shortening the emergency response.   

Being able to quickly locate an address is paramount to having an expedient emergency response.  Some locations have very poor address identification.  Some locations have no address identification.  This dilemma greatly increases the response time, due to emergency crews not being to accurately locate the scene address.  This dilemma has prompted the following requested guidelines; 

A.  Location numbers should be 3-4 inches in height and made of a reflective material that contrasts with the background color, to which they are affixed

B.  Location numbers should be easily visible, not obstructed by any plants, structures, or other objects.

C.  Wherever possible, painting location numbers on the curb and/or driveway, where the driveway for the residence or structure, meets the street, is desired

D.  When the location is over 50 feet from the street, or when less than 50 feet, but not visible due to obstructions, or an unimproved driveway, the location number should be displayed on a post, fence, wall, or mailbox at the property line, adjacent to the main driveway or walkway to the residence or structure. 

E.  When displaying on a mailbox, numbers, of a minimum of one inch in height, should be affixed to both sides of the mailbox serving the primary structure.  When the mailbox is clustered with other mailboxes or is across the street from the primary structure, the numbers should be placed on the front of the mailbox.  It is important to understand that clustered mailboxes and/or 'corner mail centers' make location identification virtually impossible.  In the case of clustered mailboxes, "D" is strongly suggested.

F.  Where several residential or other structures are served by a short common driveway or private right-of-way, which is not a recognized street, the primary location address should be at the entrance, on the driveway.  The successive apartment, lot and/or space number should be displayed on the residence or structure within five feet of the primary entranceway.  If the primary vehicle approach is not on the primary entranceway side of the residence or structure, the location number should be posted on the side of the residence facing the street. 

These are simply suggestions to assist emergency responders in identifying your location.  Easier location identification leads to faster emergency assistance.  Remember, it may be your life, or structure they are attempting to save.


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