The U.S. Fire Administration sponsors research and conducts studies to help fire departments prepare for and respond to fires, natural disasters, non-fire emergencies and other threats and vulnerabilities. In July, the USFA shared a Topical Fire Report Series focused on one- and two-family residential building fires. The residential building portion of the fire problem is considered of great national concern since it accounts for the vast majority of civilian casualties. The report focused on the details surrounding fires in one- and two-family homes reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System from 2017-19.

The summary of this report noted that on average, 230,500 one- and two-family home fires were reported each year, causing an average of 2,220 deaths, 7,250 injuries and $6 billion in property loss. The data suggested that fires in these types of buildings represented the largest subgroup of residential building fires (63%).

Even though 62% of all fire deaths in the nation occurred in one- and two-family dwellings, they often do not make national headlines. This is likely because these fatalities occur throughout the year and all over the country, rather than during a single tragic event, like a natural disaster. It is also important to consider that these types of home fires account for far more deaths in most years than all natural disasters combined.

While cooking remains the leading cause of one- and two-family residential fires, the report also concluded that fires in these homes occurred more often in the cooler months, with the most fires occurring in January. While winter peaks may be explained by the increase in alternative heat sources, the increase in these home fires in the cooler months may also just be because there are more indoor seasonal and holiday activities.

The report tells us that fires in these homes occur most frequently in the early evening hours and peak during the normal dinner periods from 5 to 8 p.m. The number declines throughout the night, with the least number of fires in the early morning hours from 4 to 6 a.m. Accidents are blamed for 21% of the fires, and electrical malfunctions contributed to 15% of them. Open flames caused 10% and intentional actions resulted in 9%.

Fortunately, fire-related fatalities and injuries have declined over the past four decades. This is possibly attributed to the increase in the presence of working smoke alarms. However, properly installed and functioning smoke alarms were only reported in 39% of all one- and two-family fires while 28% of all one- and two-family fires did not have smoke alarms present. Unfortunately, in another 34% of these fires, firefighters were unable to determine if a working smoke alarm was present due to the extent of the fire damage. Based on this data, smoke alarms were missing in at least 28% and possibly up to 62% of all of these fires.

Your local firefighters would like to remind you that there are simple steps that you can take to reduce fire risk in your home.

Working smoke alarms should be installed on every floor and in every bedroom of your residence. In addition to working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, every residential home should have at least two fire extinguishers available. It is a good idea to review how to use a fire extinguisher and make sure yours is accessible and unexpired.

Make safety your first ingredient when cooking. Cooking fires start when the heat gets too high. Unattended cooking was the leading cause of cooking fires and casualties. Clothing ignitions led to 15% of deaths.

Close your bedroom door at night. The Close Your Door safety initiative comes as the result of over 10 years of research. This research has proven that a closed door could save lives by keeping deadly heat and smoke out of the room. Tests have shown unsurvivable fire damage in hallways, yet minimal heat and smoke damage in an adjacent room protected by a closed door. Closing a door before you go to bed can make the difference between life and death.

Some of the best advice from your local firefighters is to plan ahead. If a fire breaks out in your home, you may have only 1 to 2 minutes to get out safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Everyone needs to know what to do and where to go if there is a fire. Consider drawing a floor plan of your home for children and mark two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Select an outside meeting place, and instill in children to never hide when there is a fire. Firefighters recommend that you make your home escape drill as realistic as possible and practice it twice a year.

For more information on how to keep you family and home safe, visit your local fire station and visit https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/.

The writer is a fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

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