Friday, November 16, 2012


Smoke alarms when maintained in proper working order save lives without question.  Yet still today, people are dying in residential home fires.  People need to understand that with today's common combustibles that burn faster and hotter than in years past, time to escape a fire in your home is dwindling by the second.  I believe this is evidenced by the fact that four percent of the total deaths last year or 114 fatalities occurred in just 23 of the 386,000 total residential fires in 2011.

THE FACTS:  In 2011, FIREFIGHTERS IN THE UNITED STATES responded to approximately 1,389,500 fires, of which 386,000 were residential.  These fires were responsible for 3,005 deaths throughout the country, 2,550 of them in single and multiple family dwellings.

CATASTROPHIC MULTIPLE-DEATH FIRES: defined by the NFPA as: 1. fires or explosions in homes or apartments that result in five or more fire-related deaths, or  2. fires or explosions in all other structures, as well as outside of structures, such as wildfires and vehicle fires, that claim three or more lives.

In 2011, 23 fires were confirmed as catastrophic multiple-death fires resulting in 114 deaths, including 16 children under the age of six years old.  Over half of these fires occurred in single-family homes, one being a manufactured home (aka mobile home) and the other a duplex.  Three catastrophic incidents occurred in apartment buildings, seven fewer than in 2010.  

The largest-loss-of-life occurred when seven people, including three under the age of six, perished after the families 2 1/2 story unprotected wood-frame farmhouse was destroyed by fire.  Fire department investigators told a tragic story of how the mother was in the barn attending to their milking cows; the father had already left the house to make his milk deliveries for the morning when the fire occurred.  Their eight children were alone in the house, two of the children ages two and three downstairs watching television when the fire broke out.  The three year old ran to the barn to alert the mother to the fire who then ran to a neighbor and told her to call 911.  The three year old was the only child to survive the tragedy.

During the course of the year, another five fires killed six people each, including two children under the age of six.  In the first incident, fire was determined to have occurred in the master bedroom of a double-wide manufactured home.  All the victims were found in various locations throughout the home and investigators believe that at least four of the children attempted to escape since they had been discovered by doors and windows.    The cause of the fire is listed as "Undetermined" noting that smoke detectors had been installed but investigators were unable to determine if they were operational. 

The second fire involved a murder-suicide were the perpetrator intentionally set the living and dining area on fire after killing all five family members and then killing himself.  All the victims were discovered in the area of origin.  Not that it mattered in this particular incident, but to stay on point, the home was noted not to have smoke detectors present. 

The third fire tragedy trapped six victims in two apartments above the apartment of origin in a 10-unit two-story structure.  Apparently someone in the first story apartment of origin fled leaving the door to the unit open, consequently allowing the fire to spread via an open stairwell, cutting off any escape hopes to the residents above.  The building's smoke alarms did operate.

The fourth fire was equally tragic when firefighters found four children and two adults dead in a single-family house fire with no smoke detectors which would surly have saved their lives if  one had been installed.  Investigators determined that the fire started when a charcoal grill was left unattended on a wooden porch in the rear, spreading up the buildings vinyl siding, into the eaves, and then eventually into the upstairs bedrooms from the attic above. 

The last of the five fires occurred when a leaking valve on a propane tank found an ignition source, the water heater in the basement, causing an explosion and fire that killed all six family members.  Again, in this case it would not have made a difference, but the home was found not to have smoke detectors.

NFPA statistics cite six more catastrophic multiple-death fires each killing five people in the process.  A total of six children under the age of six years old died, one of the fires killing three of them alone.  Three of the fires occurred in single-family homes, one in a duplex, and two in apartments, each consisting of 10-units or less.  Regarding smoke detectors, three incidents had no smoke alarms, two had them but were missing the batteries, and one they couldn't determine if it operated due to damage.  The sixth fire did not report on the condition or lack thereof  of smoke detectors in the building.


As I'm writing this post, although not classified as a catastrophic multiple-death incidents, they are tragic nonetheless, and further drive the point home that we are still dying in fires needlessly.

Lake City, Iowa-  As reported by Des Moines Register on 11/13/2012 at approximately 1:40 in the morning, the Lake City Fire Department responded to a house fire south of the downtown district in which four family members died.  When firefighters arrived, the home was fully involved and determined too dangerous to attempt a rescue of the victims inside. When the smoke cleared, the bodies of Wyatt Pierson, age 3, and Madison Pierson, age 8, were discovered on the first floor.  The older sister, Tyra Pierson, age 22, died attempting to escape the fire with her 10-month old son Xavier Pierson.  The fire is still under investigation and investigators have yet to determine if smoke detectors were present and/or working.

Beavercreek, Ohio-  Beavercreek Fire Department is investigating the scene of fatal fire that killed two people in their Wendover Drive home at approximately 4 a.m.  According to neighbors that called 911, the entire front of the home was engulfed in flames before firefighters arrived.  Apparently firefighters were able to rescue a male victim from the home, but he died in a local hospital of smoke inhalation shortly after.  A female victim was found inside the 1500 square foot three bedroom home that sustained heavy fire and smoke damage.  First arriving companies told investigators they did not hear smoke alarms upon arrival and it was later confirmed there were no working smoke detectors inside the home.


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