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Survey: Americans’ Misconceptions about Fire Safety in the Home

A recent nationwide survey conducted by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) revealed that 65 percent of Americans feel safer from the dangers of fire at home. Only 10 percent feel safer in a commercial or public building.

“This is an alarming misconception,” said Chris Jelenewicz, SFPE’s program manager. “Actually, fires in dwellings account for the majority of life loss due to fire.

Statistics from the United States Fire Administration report that in 2011, residential fires resulted in 2,450 deaths and 13,900 injuries. (The National Fire Protection Association reports 2,520 deaths and 13,910 injuries). Non-residential building fires resulted in 80 deaths and 1,110 injuries. (NFPA reports 120 deaths and 1,725 injuries).

Additionally, the survey revealed that 57 percent of Americans believe changes in materials used for furnishings and building materials over the last 25 years make them feel safer in their homes. At the same time, only 4 percent of the respondents felt less safe.

“This is another misconception,” said Jelenewicz. “In fact, research has demonstrated that at least in North America, changes in materials used for furnishings, building materials and components, and construction methods have resulted in the potential for an increased level of hazard from an accidental dwelling fire.”

Some of the research that Jelenewicz refers to comes from Underwriters Laboratories (UL). UL studied the fire performance data of modern lightweight home construction versus legacy home construction. The research found that legacy construction (conventional solid joists) took 18 minutes to fail when exposed to fire, while lightweight construction (wood trusses, I-joists and engineered lumber) failed within only 4 minutes.

In another research study, UL measured the fire performance data of today’s modern home furnishings versus legacy home furnishings. Research found that the room with legacy furnishings transitioned to flashover at 29 minutes and 30 seconds, while the room with modern furnishings transitioned to flashover in only 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

In order to reduce the loss of life from residential fires, the use of engineered components, systems and technologies such as smoke alarms, fire sprinklers, improved safety controls on cooking and heating appliances, and improved fire-safe materials technologies can significantly reduce the fire hazard within residential structures and thereby reduce the loss of life from residential fires.

“Many people do not recognize the important role systems engineered by fire protection engineers play in protecting our families from fire in the home,” said Jelenwicz. “When properly installed and maintained, these systems can significantly improve your chances of surviving a fire in the home.”

One of the recommendations that Jelenewicz offers to protect homeowners from fires in the home is to install both both smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers, since the combination of both reduces the likelihood of death from fire by more than 80 percent.

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