More Attention Needed For the Dwelling Fire

More Attention Needed For the Dwelling Fire

The Editor’s Opinion Page

According to preliminary estimates released last month by the National Fire Protection Association, fire killed approximately 11,900 people in the United States during 1972. The figures represent a slight increase over 1971 which had the lowest number of deaths in nine years. When you consider that the population increases each year, these figures take on more significance. Perhaps we are starting to win the battle.

As in other years, more than half of these deaths occurred in dwellings. And a high percentage of the toll was represented by children and the elderly. Since dwelling fires account for more than 50 percent of the deaths, you would think that they would get a lot of study and attention—let’s say at least 50 percent of all fire prevention efforts. Not so. It doesn’t work out that way.

In any town that we know of, dwellings must conform to an electrical code, must conform to a plumbing code and must conform to a building code. But for some reason that we could never understand, one and two-family dwellings do not have to abide by the fire prevention code (where there is one). There are exceptions, of course.

As to fire study and research, who is going to work on one and two-family dwellings when we have those high rises piercing the sky with all those people on the 40th floor? (It will probably take 40 years for fire deaths in high rises to reach the total in dwellings for one year.)

EDITH (Exit Drill in the Home) was the last big effort directed to the home dweller. And it was, and is, good. But this “innovation” goes back some 15 years. The home dweller can rightfully ask, “What have you done for me lately?”

Happily, someone is doing something, and that someone is the Fire Technology Division of the National Bureau of Standards. The FTD felt that “many lives could be saved if matches and lighters were redesigned to make them difficult or impossible for children to ignite.” They discovered that in 1948 flammable fabric fires, matches and lighters accounted for 430, and led to 375 injuries, 57 of them fatal. Nearly half of these match-lighter incidents involved children under 11. Oddly enough, the information was supplied by the Food and Drug Administration—a good portent since the more people involved in fire prevention, the fewer the fires (we hope).

What impresses us most about this study—it’s still going on—is that it is directed to the source of ignition. Much of our research goes into detecting fire, extinguishing it, limiting its spread and reducing its damage—all slanted after the fact. It gives us a nice feeling that someone is beginning at the beginning.

As one who sits daily on the 9th floor of a high rise in the high rise capital of the world, we are for all study and research directed at the unfriendly fire. But couldn’t we get a little more emphasis on those fires that take more than half the lives?

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