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Prevention First 2004

Misperception of Fire Risk

The perceptions:

  • A nationwide survey conducted in 2008 by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE)* found that “79 percent of Americans feel safer from fires at home than in a public building, with an additional nine percent feeling equally safe in both locations."
  • A 2005 SFPE survey had found that 87 percent of Americans believed they were safer from fires at home than in a public building.
  • The same 2008 survey found that 44 percent of American think about the dangers of fire once or twice a year-or less.
  • A SFPE Survey in February 2011, found “70% of Americans feel safer from fire at home than in a commercial high-rise building, and another 24% feel no difference in their safety.”
  • The 2011 survey results are similar to the results from a 2007 survey, which indicated 65% of American felt safer at home and another 24% felt no difference.
  • In a SFPE survey reported August 2009, 45% of respondents correctly identified fire as "the event most likely to cause harm to them or their family" BUT only 18% of respondents in the same survey said they worry about the dangers of fire more than once a year.
  • While “most” respondents (45%) correctly identified fire, the remaining 55% chose a different event: lightening strikes (18%), hurricanes (15%), earthquakes (12%), or floods (10%).

The facts:

  • Far more fires, and fire-related deaths and injuries, happen in homes than in non-residential buildings. In 2009 there were 356,200 residential fires resulting in 2,480 death and 12,600 injuries, compared to 89,200 fires in non-residential buildings resulting in 90 deaths and 1,500 injuries. High-rise building fires make up a small fraction of non-residential building fires (USFA data).
  • On average in the United States in 2010, someone died in a fire every 169 minutes, and someone was injured every 30 minutes. About 85% of all U.S. fire deaths in 2009 occurred in homes (Karter 2011 – Fire Loss in the United States)
  • The risk of dying in a fire is actually 149 times more likely than dying in a flood; 126 times more likely than dying in an earthquake; and 39 times more likely than dying in a storm. National Safety Council, Injury Facts, 2011

    *“The survey, commissioned by SFPE and conducted in January 2008 by Synovate, polled more than 1,000 American adults. The findings have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.” See SFPE News Releases for more information about these surveys.

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