A recent survey conducted by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers found that Americans misjudge fire risks. The survey revealed that "70% of Americans feel safer from fire at home than in a commercial high-rise building.”
It is truly ironic that where people feel safest, in their homes, is where the majority of fire deaths occur. Consider this; US fire departments responded to an estimated 362,500 home structure fires in 2009. These fires caused:
- 2,565 civilian fire deaths
- 12,600 civilian fire injuries
- $7.6 billion in direct damage
Roughly 85% of all civilian fire deaths in 2009 resulted from home structure fires. Nationwide, once every three hours someone is fatally injured in a home fire.
Life safety educators have been feverishly working to teach the public about home fire risk and fire safety for many years with limited results. One would ask; why haven’t we succeeded in changing people’s perception of home fire death risk? One reason is that it is very difficult to combat erroneous perceptions, specially in the adult. Another reason is that education is only one of the components of community risk reduction. Reducing community risk requires the three E’s: Engineering, Education and Enforcement.
The engineering and enforcement part of the equation comes from inclusion of new technologies in model codes and the adoption of these as mandatory requirements. All model codes now include fire sprinklers in all new home construction. It is now up to states and local jurisdictions to adopt these requirements in order to reduce community risk.
Fire deaths were significantly reduced with the inclusion of hard wired smoke alarms in the model codes and applied to all new home construction. Smoke alarms have done a good job providing early warning, but they do nothing to control or extinguish the fire. Perhaps this is the reason that we have reached a plateau, roughly since 2001, and there is still an average of 3,000 home fire deaths per year in the U.S.
Opponents of home fire sprinkler requirements believe that home buyers should be given the choice to include fire sprinklers in their new homes. This argument is wrong on many levels, one of which is that the only consumer able to make such a choice is the buyer of a new custom built home. Buyers of "spec homes" or subsequent buyers will have no say in the matter. Based on the results of the SFPE survey, it is logical to summise that 70% would say they don’t want them, because they don’t think that they need them.
US consumers cannot not be expected to make choices about life safety requirements in their homes any more than they are expected to make those choices in any other product that they purchase. As demonstrated by the SFPE survey the average person cannot fully appreciate the risk of fire death; or may be in denial.
The fact is that it is the responsibility of policy makers and other safety professionals to ensure that people are protected in their homes by the adoption of model codes which contain “minimum standards” of safety, and to advocate effectively for them. This includes the home fire sprinkler requirement in all new home construction.
Look around this site and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition website to find the vast amount of resources available, at no cost.