As the daughter, sister, and aunt of firefighters, Marie-Eileen Onieal knows that one week in October is dedicated to fire prevention. With that in mind, she reminds us, "Over the years, as we have concentrated efforts toward other areas in need of recognition, I think perhaps we have overlooked fire safety... Many, if not all, fire tragedies can be avoided if we educate our patients on the simple strategies to protect themselves—just as we educate them about health promotion strategies."
As I considered topics for my column this month, I was stymied by the options. Watching the morning news—which was inundated with the devastating events that had occurred in the previous 24 hours—it hit me: October has always been a “prevention” month. Let me therefore address that theme.
A day does not pass without us hearing about the need for some type of preventive action, mostly focused on diseases or injuries—some commonly known and others more obscure or in greater need of “awareness” efforts. But I think all too often we forget about preventing the somewhat obvious dangers that we face on a daily basis.
As the daughter, sister, and aunt of firefighters, I know that one week in October is dedicated to fire prevention. Over the years, as we have concentrated efforts toward other areas in need of recognition, I think perhaps we have overlooked fire safety.
Why focus on fire prevention? Well, think about the impact of being involved in, or affected by, fire. Let me give you some insight.
First, a history tidbit: Fire Prevention Week was established in 1922 to memorialize the infamous Chicago Fire of October 1871, the tragic conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, and burned more than 2,000 acres. Fire marshals decided the anniversary of the fire should be observed in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire safety and prevention. According to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Library Information Center, Fire Prevention Week is the longest-running public health and safety observance on record.1
The financial impact of fire can be devastating. For 2009, the total cost associated with fire was estimated at $331 billion, or approximately 2.3% of the gross domestic product of the United States. Fires caused $14.2 billion in reported or unreported direct property damage, representing 88% of economic losses that year; the remaining 12% was attributed to indirect loss, such as interruption of business.1 In 2010, home fires alone resulted in $6.9 billion in direct damage, and in 2011, an estimated $11.7 billion in property damage occurred as a result of fire.1
More overwhelming is that deaths from fires and burns are the third-leading cause of fatal injury in the home.2 Annually, about 3,000 deaths, or 80% of all fire deaths in the US, are the result of fires in the home.3 Each year, fire is the cause of death for more than 600 children ages 14 and younger; fire-related injuries affect about 3,000 more.4 Burn injuries account for nearly 700,000 visits to an emergency department yearly.4 According to the American Burn Association, there are one million burn injuries in the US annually, and an estimated 45,000 hospitalizations.5
In 2010, fire departments in the US responded to an estimated 1.3 million fires that caused 3,120 civilian deaths and 17,720 civilian injuries.1 In that same year, 72 firefighters were fatally injured while on duty.1 The loss of life or limb cannot be fairly assessed in dollars. Only those who have experienced the devastation of fire can truly comprehend the scars—physical and psychological—that remain as a result of being injured by fire.
There are limited data available about costs for either the initial hospitalization or the long-term care associated with burn injury,6 but intuitively we realize the expense can be tremendous because of the lengthy recovery and rehabilitation period required. What is known is that fire and burn injuries represent 1% of the incidence of injuries and 2% of the total costs of injuries each year.7 According to 2007 data from the CDC, fire and burn injuries cost approximately $7.5 billion each year: $3.3 billion in fire and burn injuries that do not require hospitalization, $3.1 billion in fatal fire and burn injuries, and $1.1 billion in hospitalization costs. These costs do not include the impact on quality of life that these injuries have on both the burn survivor and the family.
Everyday objects, if not used properly, can become dangerous and even life threatening. The fact is that people cause fires—and thousands of injuries and deaths could be prevented every year if folks incorporated fire prevention fundamentals into their daily lives. Many, if not all, fire tragedies can be avoided if we educate our patients on the simple strategies to protect themselves—just as we educate them about health promotion strategies. Here are a few key prevention tips:
Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement. Test your smoke alarms once a month; change the batteries once a year.
Use safe cooking practices: Never leave food unattended on the stove, and turn pot handles away from the edge of the stove.
If you use a propane grill, check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year.
Clean lint out of the dryer vent pipe and check that the air exhaust vent pipe is not restricted and the outdoor vent flap will open when the dryer is operating.
If you burn candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn.
Teach your family and your patients about fire prevention. For more information, log onto the National Fire Protection Association Web site (www.nfpa.org). Let’s include fire and burn injuries on the list of “never events.” And remember: If you do have a fire, get out of the house and call the fire department.
1. National Fire Protection Association. www.nfpa .org. Accessed September 18, 2012.
2. Runyan SW, Casteel C (eds). The State of Home Safety in America: Facts About Unintentional Injuries in the Home. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Home Safety Council; 2004.
3. Fire Sprinkler Initiative. www.firesprinklerinitia tive.org. Accessed September 18, 2012.
4. Shriners Hospitals for Children. www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org. Accessed September 18, 2012.
5. American Burn Association. Burn Incidence and Treatment in the United States: 2011 Fact Sheet. www.ameriburn.org. Accessed September 18, 2012.
6. Klein MB, Hollingworth W, Rivara FP, et al. Hospital costs associated with pediatric burn injury. J Burn Care Res. 2008;29(4):632-637.
7. CDC. Fire Deaths and Injuries: Fact Sheet. www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/fire-preven tion/fires-factsheet.html. Accessed September 18, 2012.