NFPA: Home Heating Fire Deaths At 20-Year Low

The number of people who died in home fires involving
heating equipment fell to the lowest level in 20 years, according to a new NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) report.

In 1999, the most recent year for which statistics are available, home heating fires killed 301 people in the United States, by far the lowest number since NFPA started collecting such data in 1980. In contrast, the highest number of home-heating deaths in that 20-year span was 979 in 1985.

"People are heeding our safety messages and the fire problem continues to decline," said John R. Hall, Jr., Ph.D., of NFPA's fire analysis and research division. "But data from the United Kingdom and Canada, where the death rates are lower, show that we can do better. If everyone followed NFPA's codes, standards, and safety recommendations, we could prevent most home-heating fire deaths."

In the United Kingdom and Canada, where the heating season is longer, the number of home-heating fire deaths, relative to population, is considerably lower than in the United States. This is particularly noteworthy for Canada, a country like the United States in many ways and with a similar overall fire death rate.

An estimated 48,800 home-heating fires occurred in the United States in 1999, resulting in 1,383 civilian injuries and $606.5 million in direct property damage.

Nearly two out of three home-heating fires and five out of six associated deaths involve devices other than central furnaces or water heaters. That's because the hot surfaces of furnaces and water heaters tend to be farther away from people and things that can burn - and because space heaters create more opportunities for human error. The most common problems leading to fires are failing to clean devices, placing them too close to combustible items, flaws in construction or design, and improper fueling.

Room gas heaters, portable kerosene heaters and portable electric heaters have the greatest risk of death. Wood stoves or fireplaces with inserts have the greatest risk of property damage from fire. Although kerosene heaters are illegal in some states, the data do not show that they are clearly or consistently more dangerous than other kinds of space heaters.

All space heaters can be used safely if close attention is paid to the rules of safe installation, usage, and maintenance. NFPA makes these recommendations:

--When buying a new unit, make sure that a qualified technician installs the unit or checks that the unit has been installed properly.

--For wood or coal stoves or fireplaces, have a professional inspect the chimney, chimney connector and other related equipment every year, and have them cleaned as often as the inspections indicate.

--Keep space heaters at least three feet (or one meter) away from anything that can burn.

--Fuel portable kerosene heaters in a well-ventilated area away from flames or other heat sources, and only when the device has cooled completely. Use only the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer, and never use gasoline. Use only if such heaters are legal in your community.

--When turning a heating device on or off, follow the manufacturer's instructions. When buying heaters, choose devices with automatic shut-off features.

Make sure any gas-fueled heating device is adequately ventilated. Unventilated gas space heaters in bedrooms or bathrooms must be small and well-mounted. Never use liquefied-petroleum gas heaters with self-contained
fuel supplies in the home.

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