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Fires and burns are among the top ten causes of injury-related death for all age groups except young adults in Kentucky (WISQARS, 2007 data). As shown in the chart below, most fatal fires occur in the victim’s home (KIPRC). Efforts to prevent fire-related injuries have concentrated primarily on residential fires and efforts to help residents escape fires in their homes.
The most frequent cause of residential fires is cooking, particularly leaving cooking sites unattended. The most frequent cause of fatal fires is smoking, especially smoking in bed. Alcohol use is a factor in approximately 40% of fatal fires (CDC). Home heating, and especially the use of space heaters, is a significant source of residential fires in Kentucky.
Fire-related fatalities have generally declined in Kentucky during the past decade, almost certainly due to a combination of increased use of smoke alarms, more stringent building codes, increased fire safety education, and improved fire suppression. While the decline in fire- related deaths is promising, a great deal of work remains to be done to reduce Kentucky’s average annual fire-related death rate of 1.9 per 100,000 (2011) population to the 1.2 per 100,000 target established by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in Healthy Kentucky 2010 (KIPRC, KCHFS).
Young children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities are most vulnerable to residential fires due to combinations of impaired senses, limited mobility, a lack of understanding of the danger presented by fire or how to evacuate from a burning structure, and a tendency to hide rather than flee.
What prevention methods are effective?
• Working smoke alarms
• Safer cigarettes
• Elementary school-based education
• Improved building codes
• Fire investigation and arson detection
Organizations conducting effective fire safety programs in Kentucky include:
The Kentucky Commission on Fire Protection Personnel, Standards and Education who establishes training standards for fire-fighters, operates a statewide fire service training program, and oversees the state’s financial aid program for fire departments. The commission has made substantial improvements to firefighter training and qualifications over the past two decades, leading to improvements in fire suppression capabilities in most communities.
The Kentucky Firefighters Association supports public fire safety education programs, partners with the fire commission to support firefighter training and safety initiatives, and champions fire safety policies.
The Kentucky Fire Marshal’s office works primarily in the area of code enforcement and fatal fire surveillance. Deputy fire marshals inspect commercial and multi-family residential structures to insure compliance with applicable fire prevention codes. They also investigate fatal fires to determine the origin and cause of the fire and to collect information related to the incident. This information is utilized to develop recommendations for fire prevention. The fire marshal’s office also provides support for some fire prevention programs.
Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center using funds provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has conducted a residential smoke alarm installation program since 1998 in cooperation with fire departments and other local partners. This program has installed more than 30,000 long-life smoke alarms in 46 counties. To date, 96 people have been alerted to a fire in their home by smoke alarms installed by this program.
The American Red Cross (ARC) provides emergency support and assistance to individuals who are displaced from their homes due to a residential fire. This role in mitigating problems created by residential fires (tertiary prevention), and its history as an organization that promotes safety and preparedness, has led the ARC to take on a role in primary fire prevention.
Property and casualty insurers often provide fire safety information to their clients, and in many cases to the general public. Those that insure commercial structures sometimes conduct their own fire prevention inspections and/or provide training in fire safety to their clients’ personnel.
Many local fire departments conduct fire safety education programs. A few fire departments also operate code enforcement and fire investigation programs.