Civilian fire deaths declined in 1986, survey reports
Civilian fire deaths and the number of fires were down approximately five percent last year, according to a national survey, keeping with a stagnant rate of decline during the past five years.
Fire took the lives of 5,850 civilians last year, 5.4 percent fewer than in 1985, the National Fire Protection Association reports in its annual fire loss survey. The number of fires last year— 2,271,500 took a similar drop from the previous year, 4.2 percent.
Although numbers are declining, the NFPA would like to see them drop faster, and it’s calling for a “concerted effort … to gain significant progress in reducing fire deaths.”
“We’re just sort of stuck spinning our wheels,” says John R. Hall, Jr., NFPA director of fire analysis.
The NFPA believes public education about proper maintenance of smoke detectors, along with product design changes, classroom education, and support for the use of residential sprinklers, will give the needed boost.
An encouraging finding in the 1986 survey, Hall says, was that civilian fire injuries were down for the second time in three years. In 1986, 26,825 nonfirefighters were injured, a decrease of 5.6 percent.
“It’s a down trend in an area that’s been flat for many, many years,” says Hall. “That suggests we’re making p rogress som e w here.”
For the first time in four years, the amount of property damage caused by fire declined, according to the findings. An estimated 56.7 billion propertv damage loss was reported in 1986, 8.4 percent less than in 1985.
The 1986 survey also shows that with 33.1 deaths per million people, Southern states had the greatest proportion of fire deaths—more than half again as high as the rest of the country. That, Hall says, is a long-standing pattern linked to the region’s high concentration of rural poor and the improper use of portable heaters.
The South—17 states between Delaware and Texas—also had the highest amount of property damage resulting from fire: 537.50 per person. Along with the Northeast, the South had the highest fire incident rate—11.2 fires per thousand population.
The number of incendiary or suspicious fires dropped 5.1 percent last year to an estimated 111,000. But while the numbers were down, those fires caused more property damage and loss of life than in 1985: 705 people died, an increase of 5.2 percent; property damage totaled 51.6 billion, up 0.4 percent.