The statement “It cannot happen to me” has been heard from many individuals in regard to a fire outbreak. Such individuals value their safety and adopt measures to avert fire incidences in their buildings: residential, offices, hotels among others. However, according to the national estimates of the effects of fire incidences in the USA, approximately 81% of deaths that result from fire and 77% of associated fire injuries occur in residential buildings. Residential buildings encompass single or multi-family dwellings, developed housing facilities, motels, hotels, residences and dormitories for students among other housing facilities. Consequently, it is inappropriate for an individual to exclude himself from the mentioned housing facilities since most families have children that use dormitories, or at least on some occasions a family visits a hotel or a restaurant. In fact, sometimes fire that starts in one place cab spread to other buildings which are located nearby.
Consequently, fire occurrences should be regarded as a problem that can affect any person; thus it necessitates collective responsibility on the part of the population.
An individual is mistaken when she/he believes that “it won’t happen to me”. Statistics indicate that approximately 73% of Americans live in either one-family or two-family dwellings. Such individuals tend to think that the assured privacy of their residences will avert fire incidences since appropriate safety measures are adhered to in their households. Such individuals should consider changing their opinion since trends indicate that there was a 4% increase in fire incidences with regard to such housing facilities. This has resulted into an increase in dollar losses of about 16%. The statistics depicting a decline in fire-related deaths and injuries may offer misguiding information. The 15% and 5% declines are attributed to an increase in the population using housing facilities. Consequently, it suffices to state that every individual, irrespective of the housing facility, is prone to fire occurrences and the resultant consequences such as death, injury and property damage.
It is appropriate to abide by the statement “I will help those unfortunate people who had fire accident”. As a matter of fact, fire incidences always result to as a tragedy. Victims are never warned in advance of an impending fire outbreak in their buildings. However, of extreme significance is the benevolence of persons who do not incur losses as a result of fire incidences. Most importantly, individuals that earn significant amounts of income should always lend a helping hand to fire victims. This is in accordance with the fact that an increase in income leads to the reduced likelihood of occurrence of a fire outbreak to a person. Unaffected persons with a much higher capital base strive to acquire fire safety equipment, for example, they tend to purchase recommended cooking equipment that minimizes the probability of fire incidences.
Prevention of fire incidences should be the main agenda in any fire-related discussion as opposed to developing fire suppression mechanisms. Many people are mistaken when they say that “They are just children playing, they didn’t know any better”. The notion of accepting fire incidences that are caused by children has played a great role in increasing fire tragedies in the USA and other parts of the world. Funds should be released by the Government to educate the public on fire prevention and mitigation as opposed to fire suppression. This will ensure that parents educate their children on the necessity of adhering to effective fire mitigation strategies such as never lighting an open fire without the presence of an adult. It has been noted that some fires occur in kitchens, bed rooms and playgrounds whenever children are left to play with dangerous items that can easily ignite without any prior warning. The high prevalence of fire occurrences in America is attributed to increased government expenditure on fire suppression instead of mitigation.
Based on the occurrence of fire in both rural and urban settings, it has been noted that there has been a slight deviation in the places of incidence. For instance, the occurrence of outside fires has been noted to be 45% and 43% in a rural and urban setting respectively. The respective percentages for structure fires are 35% and 31%, vehicle fires -19% and 24% and other fires 1% and 2%. With regard to the distribution of casualties due to both rural and urban fires, it is evident that there is a minimal difference. The casualties, including injuries and deaths, among vehicle, structure and other incidences of fire are very similar for rural and urban areas. However, with regard to vehicle and outside fires, rural areas display higher casualties as compared to urban areas. However, structure fires were noted to be more prevalent in urban areas as compared to rural settings. This is attributed to the higher number of buildings in urban areas.
Even though the occurrences of vehicle fires in rural areas were noted to be lower than in urban areas, the fatalities associated with fire incidences were observed to be higher in rural areas. This is attributed to a big distance between the points of occurrence of vehicle fires and emergency services that are used to suppress the fire. Consequently, disparity in social status between individuals who live in rural areas and those who live in urban areas is responsible for the fatalities. The Northern urban areas have better and faster access to emergency rescue services as compared to the Southern rural areas. As a result of the discrepancy, an occurrence of vehicle fires in rural areas may result in fatal casualties due to the reduced availability of emergency and medical services in the area.
Apparently, there are three leading causes of fire in both rural and urban areas. These include open flame, arson and natural causes.
According to statistics provided by rural fire departments the three main causes of fire amount to 45, 16 and 9 percent respectively. However, in urban areas, arson was identified as the leading cause of fire accounting to 44% of the total cases of fire accidents. The economic difference between rural and urban areas explains the main differences between the leading causes of fire. Open fires in rural areas are due to the existence of extensive waste lands. However, since such large tracts of unutilized land are not present in urban areas, open flame is not the leading cause of fire there. In urban areas, there are many cases of arson, the act of deliberately setting fire to structures and/or vehicles with malicious intent.
Furthermore, the increased losses resulting from rural fires can be attributed to poverty. This extends to urban settings that are economically depressed. Acquisition of equipment to guarantee fire safety is an additional expense that cannot be met by individuals that live in rural areas and impoverished urban areas. Most poor families only strive to satisfy their basic needs rather than incur additional expenses related to purchase of kits for fire safety. However, wealthy families can afford additional expenses related to acquisition of fire safety equipment thus are less likely to encounter fatalities in the event of occurrence of fire in their houses.
It suffices to state that many industrialized nations exhibit better records in regard to fire safety as compared to the USA. The improved fire safety is linked to dedication to fire mitigation as opposed to fire suppression. During the period from 1979 to 1992, per capita death rate as a result of fire in the USA stood at 26.5 out of one million. Canada and Hungary displayed approximately similar results. Within the study period, Switzerland exhibited the lowest death rate (5.2 per million). The discouraging statistics necessitated the improvement of fire safety in the USA. This resulted into a 46.3% decline in death rates from 36.3 in 1979 to 19.5 in 1992. However, the decline in mortality rates was also observed in other countries, apart from Denmark and Hungary.
Despite the improved fire safety, the death toll of fire accidents still surpasses the one observed in other industrialized countries. In fact, by 1992, the death rate exceeded that of other countries under study by a margin of between 30% and 50%. Certainly, comparing the Netherlands and Switzerland with the United States, the mortality rate is almost thrice that of the mentioned countries. It is also vital to note that most of fire incidences witnessed in the USA occur at home. Fire-fighting kits are mainly installed in public places as opposed to residential structures that are responsible for the highest death toll. Fire safety can be guaranteed by the following aspects:
- Enhanced distribution and quality of relevant resources to be used when suppressing fire.
- Improving the levels of passive and active fire protection in structures.
- Increasing the amount of activities that are geared towards fire prevention.
- Ensuring that the society “accepts” fire.
- Improving the behavior of the population in regard to fire safety.
There are quantified statistics with regard to the first three aspects. The statistics indicate that a lot of money has been spent in the USA on fire fighting and fire protection equipment that is provided in buildings to enhance fire safety. As a result, high death rate should not be attributed to the country’s failure to invest in built-in fire-fighting equipment or the forces that are responsible to suppress fire. The other three aspects explain the failure of the country to enhance fire safety. These include the funds that are invested by the country towards fire prevention, the cultural perspective towards the “acceptability” of fire and the population’s behavior.
The USA invests a lot of financial resources in fire suppression as opposed to mitigation.9 This is evidenced by the excellent standards that are set by the departments that respond to fire outbreaks. Moreover, performance of the USA in terms of fire suppression is fantastic. However, all matters pertaining to fire-related tragedies recommend prevention over suppression. Some of the prevention strategies that can be adopted by governing institutions are:
- Controlling fire protection levels in structures
- Ensuring that responsibility of the population in regard to fire prevention is clearly understood
- Provision of both practical and theoretical guidance to citizens regarding fire risks and preventive measure ]
Therefore, it is certain that the USA allocates more funds on fire suppression instead of fire prevention. This is evidenced by the amounts of money spent on equipment used in firefighting. This is not in tandem with the strategies adopted in other industrialized countries that prioritize fire prevention over suppression. It was observed that whereas other countries allocate between 4% and 10% of fire department budget to fire prevention, the United States allocates only 3%. This leads to the high death rates witnessed in the USA. The realities of politics do not have a great influence on the death toll exhibited in the USA. In fact, the presence of a massive pool of resources, both human and financial, is supposed to help the USA in reducing the number of deaths.
There is a direct correlation between high crime rate in a neighborhood and high fire rate in the same neighborhood. It is evident that a good neighborhood is characterized by individuals who live in structures that are located in the neighborhood. The existence of abandoned and vacant houses in a neighborhood may contribute towards insecurity emanating from criminal activities. In the USA, neighborhoods have always been segregated based on the income levels of their inhabitants. Abandoned structures are common in poor neighborhoods. Vacant buildings exhibit the highest tendency of experiencing severe fire outbreaks as compared to any other structures. According to Sternlieb and Burchel (1973), abandoned structures have an almost four times likelihood of experiencing fatal fire incidences than other structures in New Jersey.
Arson has been identified as the main cause of fire in abandoned buildings. This implies that a neighborhood that contains many abandoned structures encounters a lot of criminal acts as a result of the existence of criminals that dwell in the vacant buildings. According to a survey conducted by NFIRS (National Fire Incident Reporting System) in 1994, residential fires were mainly as a result of cooking and arson. Consequently, both causes accounted for 21% of fire incidences that occurred in metropolitan areas. When the scope was expanded to the national causes of fire, arson was ranked third. It accounted for 14% of the total fire causes in the USA. The results also attributed arson to be the leading cause of death in metropolitan areas.
Criminals have been observed to engage in careless smoking on a number of occasions. As a result, the existence of abandoned structures in a neighborhood may imply the presence of criminals that dwell in the structures, thus the availability of careless smokers. Statistics indicate that careless smoking has been the leading cause of fire-related deaths in residential areas. To be precise, it was responsible for 24% of deaths in 1994. Fire cases in abandoned structures located in poor neighborhoods may also be due to the correlation between income and the occurrence of suspicious fires. According to Gunther (1981), there were approximately 100-120 incidences of suspicious fires in areas inhabited by low income individuals. On the other hand, there were only 55-70 such cases in a neighborhood inhabited by individuals with higher income. The disparity indicates that poor neighborhoods are more susceptible to fire incidences as compared to up-scale suburban neighborhoods.
From the study, it was evident that the occurrence of incendiary fires was 14.4 times more likely in an area inhabited by poor individuals.
Resultant fire fatalities in poor neighborhoods characterized by high criminal activity may also be due to the security measures adopted by residents of poor neighborhoods. The use of heavy furniture to block doorways at night and the installation of security grilles make it difficult for them to escape from the buildings in the event of fire. Rescue services may also find it difficult to get into the structures. Therefore, a neighborhood that is inhabited by criminals has high chances of experiencing fire incidences that result in severe fatalities.