the United States, 1,946 children (0-18) died in fires in 2000. Young
children, especially males ages 0-4, are at the greatest risk. Children
of this age are less likely to recognize the dangers of playing with
fire, more likely to hide once a fire breaks out and less likely to
have been taught home fire escape. Poverty increases this risk. This is
due in part to lower income families being more likely to live in
older, wood frame housing; less likely to have working smoke alarms;
less likely to have a family escape plan and to practice it; more
likely to use alternative heating sources; more likely to have
malfunctioning wiring or appliances and more likely to have barriers to
escape or rescue. The latter includes having children’s bedrooms in
basements with small or no access windows, security bars on windows and
back doors or windows nailed shut for security or warmth.
A significant portion of the fires that result in child fatalities are
started by children in the home playing with incendiary devices such as
matches and lighters. Since the CPSC took action in 1994 to require
that cigarette lighters be child-resistant, deaths caused by children
playing with lighters has decreased by 43%.
Whereas deaths from residential fires in general have been cut
dramatically in the last 20 years, fatal fires caused by candles have
increased by 750% between 1980 and 1998. The CPSC has recalled several
candles and candle-related products since 1994, and is currently
working with the candle industry to develop safety standards to help
reduce fires caused by candles. The CPSC has also been working in
recent years on standard proposals for upholstered furniture in
residences, which contain highly flammable polyurethane foam that
catches fire easily and spreads quickly, causing large amounts of
noxious fumes and intense heat, thereby increasing the risk of fire
fatality, especially multiple fatalities.
The single most important factor in reducing child fire fatalities is
the presence in the home of a working smoke detector. Three-fifths of
fire fatalities occur in the small percentage of homes (7%) that lack
any detectors at all. Although most American homes have at least one
smoke alarm in the home, the detectors may not contain good batteries
or be in working order. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
recommends monthly testing, yearly battery replacement and replacing
entire alarms after 10 years. Detectors with lithium batteries that
last 10 years, hard-wired smoke alarm systems and residential
sprinklers can dramatically reduce the risk of dying in a fire.
Learning the basics of home fire escape is another proven way to reduce
fire fatality risk. Research shows that children, including
preschoolers, are capable of learning life-saving means of home fire
escape. In August of 2001, the NFPA was awarded a federal grant to
train fire service representatives from 200 communities throughout the
U.S. in the implementation of Risk Watch, NFPA’s successful child
injury prevention curriculum, in local schools. A large part of this
curriculum deals with fire safety, including age-appropriate lessons on
home fire escape for pre-school children through age eight.
- Child’s ability to gain access to lighters,
matches or other incendiary devices.
- Homes without working smoke detectors.
- Children under age five.
- Black and American Indian males.
- Children from low income families.
- Quality of supervision at time of death.
- Drug or alcohol use by supervising adults.
- Members of household falling asleep while
smoking or leaving candles burning.
- Victim’s exposure to fire safety education.
- Lack of a fire escape plan.
- Use of alternative heating sources,
substandard appliances or outdated wiring.
- Failure of property to maintain code
- Timeliness of fire rescue response.
for Case Review
- Autopsy reports
- Scene investigation reports and photos
- Fire marshal reports that include source of
fire and presence of detectors
- EMS run reports
- Emergency Department reports
- Information on zoning or code inspections and
- Prior CPS history on child, caregivers and
persons supervising child at time of death
- Names, ages and genders of other children in
- Criminal background checks on persons
supervising child at time of death
- Reports of home visits from public health or
- Any information on prior deaths of children in
- Smoke detector distribution programs that are
targeted in low-income neighborhoods, providing non-removable, lithium
- Legislation requiring installation of
detectors in new and existing housing, especially when combined with
multifaceted community education and detector give aways.
- Risk Watch or similar programs in schools,
preschools and daycare settings to teach fire safety and home fire
- Utilization of mobile “Smoke Houses” by fire
departments to teach children how fires start, how fast they can
spread, and how best to escape a burning house.
- Codes requiring hard-wired detectors in new
- Passage and enforcement of local ordinances
regarding the inspection of rental units for fire safety, especially
for the presence of working smoke detectors.