Fire Science Term Paper

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U.S. Fire Problem

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Everyday in cities across the United States fire departments respond to a range of hazards, from house fires, to car accidents, to medical emergencies. Fire departments play an integral role within the community as responders, and as an institution of safety and protection. Despite advances in technology, building codes, and other practices, the fire problem in the U.S. remains to a large degree as severe as it was thirty years ago. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been surveying and dissecting the problem over the last few decades, beginning with the first America Burning report in 1973. When measuring the progress of the fire problem in the U.S. In terms of life lost, the progress made in the thirty years since the 1973 report is negligible (Bernstein, 2002). To address the problem, fire departments began fire education within schools and communities to raise awareness about prevention methods. FEMA has since reported that deaths and frequency of fires are not a result of lack of education, and other prevention strategies must be implemented. The first and most vital action needed to address the fire problem in the U.S. is adequate funding must be provided at the federal level to state and local governments. Proper funding will allow the other findings from FEMA and the United States Fire Administration (USFA) to be employed. Such recommendations include the application and use of sprinkler technology, providing loss prevention education that expands outside fire hazards, better acquisition and analyzing of fire data, conducting research, raising standards and building codes, and improving fire fighter health and safety. Implementing the mentioned improvements to address the overwhelming fire problem in the U.S. has the potential to save lives of civilians and first responders, structures, and over time will cut monetary losses experienced by fire and fire hazards.

Term Paper on Fire Science Assignment

The fire problem in the U.S. is evident and unnecessary. Today, in regards to both frequency and total losses of life, America has the highest total fire losses than any modern technological society (Bernstein, 2002). There are general misconceptions about the fire problem in the U.S., however deaths and injuries from fires are greater than those suffered by natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes combined. Deaths from natural disasters are estimated between 200 and 250 per year, versus 4,000 deaths from fires ("Fire in the," 2004, p. 30). One contributor to the misconception about the fire problem is that most fires are relatively small and it is difficult to assess their total impact. Typically there are only a few fires each year that are associated with large dollar amounts that give indication to the cost of fires in the U.S. For example, the wildland fires in southern California in 1993 accumulated in $800 million in losses, the Oakland East Bay Hills fire in October 1991 resulted in $1.5 billion in losses, and the 1998 Florida wildland fires caused an estimated $390 million in losses ("Fire in the," 2004, p. 31). Although these major fires are captivated by national media outlets, they do not adequately address or give insight into the total loss experienced by fires that accrue over the 1-2 million reported fires every year.

More accurate insights into the prevalence and severity of the fire problem in the U.S. were reported by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): Fire analysis and research division. The NFPA report on the fire problem in 2009 addresses the true predominance of the fire problem experienced in the U.S. In 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,348,500 fires, and the result of these fires caused 3,010 civilian fire fatalities (Karter, 2010). In addition to the fatalities, the fires resulted in 17, 050 civilian injuries. The report continues to address the cost of fire damages, a figure that unfortunately does not cause media hysteria, and estimates $12,531,000,000 in direct property losses. Using these estimated and reported figures, the commonality and rate of civilian death and injury due to fire is made even more apparent. In 2009, there was a civilian fire death every 175 minutes, and a fire injury every 31 minutes (Karter, 2010). Another misconception about the fire problem is the result of these civilian deaths and injury are a consequence of large wildfires, however they more accurately a consequence of home fires. Although civilian home fires accounted for only 5% of the total 26,534,000 fire calls in 2009, they are responsible for the vast majority of fire related death and injury. As reported by NFPA, home fires were responsible for 85% of civilian fire deaths in 2009 (Karter, 2010).

Home fires result in the most civilian fire deaths, however home fires are only a fraction of calls received by fire departments. Out of the 1,348,500 fires attended by public fire departments in 2009, almost half a million occurred in structures, of which 78% of structure fires occurred in residential properties. Fires occurring in vehicles accounted for 219,000 of fire responses, and 649,000 fires occurred in outside properties. These figures can be distilled down to a significant statistic: every 23 seconds a fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the U.S. (Karter, 2010).

Even though home fires are only a portion of the fire problem, the fact they account for the high majority of civilian casualties has prompted government agencies to survey the causes of residential fires. The leading cause of residential fires is cooking. Cooking fires are most commonly caused by unattended cooking where grease or oil ignites, or when flammable materials are placed in proximity to stove burners and catch fire ("Fire in the," 2004). Wearing loose clothing while cooking is also cause for many cooking injuries. In 2001 alone, cooking was the third leading cause of fire deaths. When surveying causes of residential fire by city, the USFA reported cooking in residential structures to be the leading cause of home fires across the country, including cities of Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago ("Profile of the," 1999). The rate of incidence of cooking fires is double that of the next leading cause of residential fires: heating. Heating related fires are primarily caused by chimneys. Another significant cause of residential fires is trash related.

The leading cause of dollar loss as a result of fire is incendiary and suspicious fires, which can often legally be defined as arson. Incendiary and suspicious fires can be a consequence of such motives as vandalism, revenge, fraud, and arguments. Arson is the third leading cause of fires and injuries in residents ("Fire in the," 2004). The USFA reported incendiary or suspicious fires in non-residential structures to be the leading cause of fires in such cities as San Francisco, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Houston, and Cleveland ("Profile of the," 1999). There is a high concentration of overlap with arson fires in both residential and non-residential structures. Other noted causes of residential fires include children playing, careless smoking, electrical distribution, appliances, and open flames.

To address and implement strategies to reduce the fire problem in the U.S. first requires adequate funding from federal and state governments to fire departments and first responders. The majority of fire departments in the U.S. already operate under fiscal strain and to impart new technology and resources would cause significant financial burden onto communities. The initial funding required by the government would be substantial, however cutting the cost of property losses from fire would ultimately save millions, if not billions, of dollars across the U.S. (Bernstein, 2002). The estimated $12,531,000,000 in direct property losses caused by fires in 2009 speaks to the need of federal intervention to save lives, structures, and money.

Once proper funding is secured, additional recommendations to address the fire problem can be utilized. The next recommendation supported by FEMA and USFA is the development of a long-term strategic plan to install sprinklers and smoke alarm systems. The USFA suggests implementing sprinkler and fire alarm systems that automatically notify the closest fire department, and that these systems are professionally maintained and monitored. This would help to decrease the response time to structural fires. Sprinkler system requirements in new and old structures could also decrease the damage caused by fire which can reduce injury and rebuilding costs (Bernstein, 2002). The next recommendation, loss prevention education for the public, includes proving a unified all-hazard learning curriculum to teach children the dangers of fire as well as other hazards (Bernstein, 2002). This education should be nationwide and include instruction on smoke detectors, dangers of cooking and how to eliminate kitchen fires, electrical hazards, smoking hazards, and monetary and legal cost of arson.

Additional recommendations made by FEMA and the USFA includes the acquisition and analysis of data, conducting research, raising standards and building codes, and improving fire fighter health and safety. The acquisition and analysis of data would include funds data and public policy decisions that address specific problems identified by fire departments. Research recommendations include analyzing the full scope of fire and emergency service needs, as fire departments are not only responsible for responding to fires,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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