Based on national analyses of home fire deaths, we can predict who is most likely to die in a home fire. They are often people who:
- live in poverty
- are very old or very young
- do not have a high school education
- are black or native American
- live in the urban core or in very rural areas
You and your fire department cannot solve the many social problems that contribute to high fire death risk; but you can lower the risk of home fire deaths by doing what you do best: helping people with simple actions that save lives. This includes installing smoke alarms and alert equipment and helping families understand the need to keep them working and to create and practice an escape plan so they will know what to do if those alarms sound.
In every service area, firefighters can make a big difference with a home visit program. When you respond to a 9-1-1 call, the people waiting for you in front of their home will be safe outside because of you.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 366,600 residential structure fires per year from 2007–2011.1 These fires resulted in an estimated 2,570 civilian fire fatalities, 13,210 civilian injuries, and $7.2 billion in direct property damage per year. CPSC estimated that over 96 percent of residential fires are not reported to fire departments.2
Most people believe a fire is not something that will happen to them and their loved ones. But NFPA estimates that, including unreported fires, a household will experience five fires over an average lifetime.1
While 96-97 percent of U.S. households have at least one smoke alarm, smoke alarms operated in just half (52 percent) of reported home fires and were present in only three-quarters (73 percent).3 It’s important for every household to have working smoke alarms to give early warning should a fire occur. Having working smoke alarms cuts the risk of dying in a fire nearly in half!
Smoke alarms that are properly installed and maintained play a vital role in reducing death, injuries, and property damage in home fires.
A fundamental mission of the fire department has always been fire suppression and rescue. Today many progressive fire departments are adopting a more comprehensive approach known as Community Risk Reduction, or CRR. CRR is a process to identify local risks, followed by the coordinated and strategic investment of resources to reduce their occurrence and impact. Installation of smoke alarms in high-risk homes through home safety visits is a strategy central to Community Risk Reduction, as is the education of area residents in the prevention of fires and other injuries. Home safety visits play a powerful role in enhanced public safety. Benefits to adopting this proven strategy include an immediate positive impact on the life safety of residents in the community, firefighter safety, and building community equity.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/FEMA, the Vision 20/20 project has worked with the Washington State Association of Fire Marshals to pilot test home safety visit programs as part of a Community Risk Reduction strategy. Since 2009, more than 25 communities large and small across the nation have used a variety of home visit approaches. This “how-to guide” presents proven options from Washington State and elsewhere to help you, your fellow firefighters, your department and your community partners get into as many homes as possible to conduct home safety visits and install smoke alarms when needed.
Watch this clip about the Philadelphia, PA Fire Department’s home safety visit program with former Commissioner Lloyd Ayers (retired).
Here is a list of some U.S. fire departments that are doing or have done home fire safety visits:
Chelan District 5, WA
Chelan District 7, WA
East Pierce County, WA
Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services, GA
Kitsap County, WA (six jurisdictions)
Lake Stevens, WA
Palm Beach County, FL
Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department, MN
Snohomish County, WA Fire District 1
Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, OR
West Pierce County, WA