Principal Consultant for Fire Safety, BRE Global

March 5, 2020

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Reducing fire fatalities in the home

Raman Chagger, Principal Consultant for Fire Safety at the BRE, discusses the background and findings of a recent study: Causes of fire fatalities and serious fire injuries in Scotland – review and recommendations to reduce them.

Fire fatalities in Great Britain have gradually been decreasing over the last three decades but have now plateaued. This first phase of a research study investigating fire fatalities and serious injuries in Scotland has identified the types of people most at risk. 14 recommendations have been proposed that, if implemented, would be expected to further reduce fire fatalities and injuries.

Background

The increasing use of smoke alarms, the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended) and preventive measures such as Home Fire Safety Visits have all contributed to this decline in fire fatalities (shown in Figure 1) that most commonly occur in domestic dwellings.

Figure 1: Fire-related fatalities in Great Britain

 

Fatality numbers are now around a third of what they were thirty-five years ago. It was proposed by a research group comprising the Fire Industry Association (FIA), Scottish Government, Scottish Fire and Rescue Services (SFRS) and the BRE Trust, that the rapid growth in recent years of “smart” electrical technologies and related digital products may support further reductions. The research group agreed to study the causes of fire fatalities and serious fire related injuries in Scotland, with the aim of proposing solutions intended to reduce these in the future.

The data for the period from April 2013 to March 2017 for Scotland was reviewed by analysing data from the Incident Recording System (IRS), which is used by fire and rescue services to record incidents attended. The IRS data provided by SFRS for this phase of research work, included 19,645 fire incidents in total, 147 serious injuries and 126 fire fatalities.

Findings

From a review of this data, focussing specifically on responses recorded by SFRS personnel to 38 questions, the trends have been analysed from which general observations have been made. The response options were reviewed for questions such as:

  • What was the time and date of call?
  • What type of property was involved?
  • What was the cause of the fire?
  • Was there any alarm system present? If so, what type?
  • What type of room/compartment was the fire origin?
  • Was “impairment due to suspected drugs/alcohol” a contributory factor?
  • What was the age of those involved in the fire?

For each question a number of options are detailed in the IRS. In order to compare the relative contribution from each of these options the data for all incidents, fire fatalities and serious fire injuries was presented as percentages. By presenting the data in this way, the more the profile of fatalities or serious injuries departs from the profile of the total number of fires, the greater the influence of the option on the risk of death or serious injury.

An example, from the briefing paper, of the data analysed for the “Location of fire origin” is shown in Figure 2. Whilst the highest proportion (70%) of fires occur in the kitchen this is not where the greatest proportion of fatalities occur, but is where the greatest number of serious injuries are observed. Both fatalities and serious injuries are proportionately higher when the location of the fire origin is either the living room or the bedroom.

Figure 2: Incident data by location of fire origin

Summary of findings

The findings show that victims are generally people who are older or in some way vulnerable. Underlying factors such as falling or being asleep, having medical conditions or illnesses, or a temporary lack of physical mobility (chair-ridden or bedridden) all contribute. The victim is likely to be alone at the time of the fire. Most of the fires causing death or serious injury start in the bedroom or living room. The time from fire to discovery is also critical, with fires discovered sooner (before 30 minutes) more likely to lead to serious injuries rather than fatalities, and those discovered after 30 minutes more likely to result in fatalities.

The findings demonstrate that more needs to be done in terms of reliable early detection and suitable intervention/s, to either delay the development of the fire or to notify people – using technology – so they can take suitable action at the early stages of the fire.

Recommendations

14 recommendations have been made to address the highlighted fire safety issues and concerns that current technologies and approaches may not provide sufficient protection for vulnerable people. The recommendations are targeted at further developing existing technologies to safeguard vulnerable people in the future. They include:

  • providing warnings to smartphones from smoke alarms;
  • increasing the use of combined detection and suppression water mist systems as well as extending the application of such systems;
  • developing video analytic techniques to monitor and provide detection of multiple events such as fire, security breach, person falling etc.;
  • researching fires from electrical items and proposing ways to reduce their occurrence;
  • using additional smoke alarms in areas at higher risk of fire.

BRE-FirefatalitiesReport-20Next steps

The next phase of research work will involve a detailed analysis of the 126 fire investigation reports generated for each fatal fire incident. As well as identifying further recommendations, the potential effectiveness of the 14 proposed so far will be considered.

This research work demonstrates that a broad expert group of collaborating stakeholders can perform a comprehensive program of research work, resulting in practical outputs that stakeholders together can engage in implementing. BRE is now aiming to complete similar collaborative studies with stakeholders in other countries to identify the most appropriate fire safety measures in different regions of the world. If interested, please email [email protected].

Download the briefing paper describing this research work in more detail.

 

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