The History of American Fire Prevention



What is national fire problem

National Fires are the accidents which occur most frequently, whose causes are the most diverse and which require intervention form the government and the respective agencies to employ resources, methods and techniques in order to prevent and fight the conditions and needs of each incident.

Depending on the type of fire (nature of the material ablaze), meteorological conditions (wind) and the effectiveness of the intervention, material damage can be limited (a single car, building or production or storage warehouse installation), or affect wide areas (forest or agricultural fires, hydrocarbons, gas or other highly flammable products, storage or piping installations, harbor installations and rail or marine transport equipment). Explosions are in a different category. Each type of fire is the object of specific technical prescriptions as regards prevention, intervention and the behavior of the population affected. It is also relevant to note that many fires have a criminal origin and that in times of armed conflict or crisis as well as of indirect wars (sabotage) human intervention also provokes major accidents.

Fire problem overview in America

Thousands of Americans die each year, tens of thousands of people are injured, and property losses reach billions of dollars. There are huge indirect costs of fire as well, such as temporary lodging, lost business, medical expenses, psychological damage, and others. The National Fire Protection Association has estimated that the total economic cost of fire loss in the United States reached over $300 billion in 2008. These indirect costs may be as much as 8 to 10 times higher than the direct costs of fire.

The annual losses from floods, hurricane, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters combined in the United States by comparison averages just a fraction of those from fires. The public, media, and local governments are generally unaware of the magnitude and severity of the fire problem to individuals and their families, to communities, and to the Nation.

USFA is committed to providing national leadership to foster a solid foundation in prevention, preparedness, and response.

Fire analysis in 2014 and the overall trend in 2015

In 2014, there were 1,298,000 fires reported in the United States. These fires caused 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 civilian injuries, and $11.6 billion in property damage.

494,000 were structure fires, causing 2,860 civilian deaths, 13,425 civilian injuries, and $9.8 billion in property damage.

193,500 were vehicle fires, causing 345 civilian fire deaths, 1,450 civilian fire injuries, and $1.5 billion in property damage.

610,500 were outside and other fires, causing 70 civilian fire deaths, 900 civilian fire injuries, and $237 million in property damage.

Key Findings

Over the last 15 years the total number of fires that local municipal fire departments reported continues to be on a downward trend for a decrease of 29%. Over this same period however the number of structure fires has remained relatively constant.

Fires are still fatal. 84% of all fire deaths occur in home fires.

In communities with less than 5,000 population, the frequency of fires per thousand population is higher and the rate of civilian fire deaths is significantly worse than in larger communities.

Average loss per structure has remained relatively unchanged since 1977 on average at $19,500 per structure in 2015 dollars.

In 2014, 64% of fire department responses were medical aid (ambulance, EMS, rescue) responses.



Picture of figures of the effects


Graphical analysis in 2014

Fire Prevention Practices History

Established in 1922 was (Fire Prevention Week) to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. Fire Service Recognition Day is to express appreciation for the many public services rendered by members of the Canadian fire service.

In 1974, United States Fire Administration passed the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act which established the USFA and the National Fire Academy (NFA) to help decrease tragic losses and to promote professional development of the fire and emergency response community. The U.S. Fire Administrator oversees, coordinates, directs, and sets policy for these efforts; serves as the fire protection and emergency response community expert to the FEMA Administrator; and acts as an advocate at the Federal level to address challenges facing the Nation’s fire service.

Within the scope over years of these efforts, it is essential that USFA engage government and private stakeholders in exploring research, development, testing and evaluation of programs that will address emerging fire, emergency medical and disaster response needs of the fire service. USFA must develop and deliver education to the public, Federal, State, local, tribal, and non-governmental organizations that lead to the control of the evolving fire hazards, such as the expanding wildland/urban interface zones, and addressing the needs of an aging population requiring greater support from the fire and fire-based emergency medical services community.

The combined efforts of USFA and fire service stakeholders have contributed to a decline in fire-related deaths through public safety education, fire prevention inspections, fire code initiatives, and installation of smoke alarms and residential sprinkler systems. In the general population, fire related deaths declined by 18.6 percent from 2001-2010. In addition, the number of on-duty firefighter fatalities, excluding the events of September 11, 2001, and the Hometown Heroes’ fatalities, decreased 26 percent. The Nation has also seen recent progress in further reducing firefighter-line-of-duty deaths. For the last three successive years, we have experienced firefighter death totals below 100.



Great Chicago Fire Massacre


The Philosophy and Timing Behind Regulations for Fire Prevention

Despite making progress over time, USFA analysis of international and domestic fire statistics show that the United States fire problem remains among the worst in the industrial world. Thousands of Americans die each year, tens of thousands of people are injured, and property losses reach billions of dollars. There are huge indirect costs of fire as well, such as temporary lodging, lost business, medical expenses, psychological damage, and others.

NFPA has many reasons to expand its global influence. New fire protection challenges are constantly evolving, from tall wooden buildings and stored energy systems to alternative fuel vehicles, climate change, and terrorism—challenges shared by societies around the world, including the United States.


Companies/Organizations forming fire prevention efforts

Engine or Pumper

A unit that pumps water. Modern engines are almost always “triple-combination” units that have a pump, a tank of water, and hoses. This company has the primary responsibility of supplying water to a scene, to locate and confine the fire, and extinguish the fire.

Truck or Ladder

A unit that carries ladders and an aerial device to access buildings above ground level. Primarily, the company performs the ladder work and supplies master streams to the fireground. The company also performs structural ventilation and overhaul, primary and secondary search & rescue, securing of utilities, and often supplies rapid intervention teams.


A unit that carries a large variety of tools to assist in the search and rescue of victims at an incident such as a fire or traffic collision. It may or may not provide emergency medical response and may or may not transport patients to hospital.


This type of unit has many different local and regional definitions. In the New York City Fire Department, for example, a Squad is a hybrid company consisting of an apparatus equipped with supplies necessary to perform some levels of rescue operations as well as engine and truck company operations. In some areas it is identical to a Rescue or a Medic company.

Medic/Rescue Ambulance

A unit that provides EMS, often at the paramedic level. Many fire services offer some form of EMS and companies may or may not transport patients to hospital.


Short for quintuple-combination engine. The unit has the three items that an engine does — pump, tank, hose — but also carries ground ladders and has an aerial device.

Tanker or Tender

A unit that has a large water tank. It may or may not also have a pump.

Preventive and fighting practices



National Fire Protection Association NFPA

The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) provides information, education and training for the volunteer fire and emergency medical services throughout New York State

U.S. Fire Administration USFA

National Fire Information Council (NFIC)

National Fire Equipment Ltd.

National Fire Academy

National Fire Data Center (NFDC) Through the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS)

National Emergency Training Center (NETC)



Prevention efforts which other nations have experienced

Attention is being given to the latest studies from Tri-Data and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on fire prevention efforts around the world

The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden and many others are devoted to a concept called integrated risk management. This simply means that there’s more than one way to mitigate the risks associated with fire. In some cases, fire deaths are more than 40 percent lower in these countries than in the United States.

Now USA our annual loss rate is closer to 3,500. But we know from other countries’ experience that we’re capable of 40 percent below that—which begs the question: How can we get there?

Other nations reach out to their high-risk audiences, visiting them where they live. Home-safety visits aren’t a new concept to us in the States.

These nations routinely partner with community agencies, working with housing providers to install smoke alarms, with home health agencies to spot vulnerable seniors, and with law enforcement to reduce cases of arson. Home visits are performed on those properties identified as having the highest incidence of fires and fire deaths and injuries. That’s an oversimplification, but I think it captures the heart of what we should be tried in the United States.





Current Programs and Initiatives

National Fire Academy. We continue to administer educational programs for community leaders and first responders to help them prepare for and respond to emergencies regardless of cause or magnitude.

Public Education and Awareness. USFA continues to deliver fire safety messages, develop national campaigns targeting high risk populations (e.g. children, seniors), and leverage our distribution/impact by working with a wide range of public/private partners

Data Collection and Analysis. USFA assists State and local entities in collecting, analyzing and disseminating data and special reports on the occurrence, control, and consequences of all types of fires, emergency medical incidents, and other emergency activities through the efforts of the National Fire Data Center (NFDC)

Research and Technology.

Emergency Response Support. USFA provided technical expertise and assistance during the development of All Hazard Incident Management Teams (AHIMTs). Teams today are representative of local, State, tribal, and Urban Area Security Initiative regions.

Outreach materials and educational programs

Working with the media

Fire protection technology



Current and Upcoming Trends/Challenges

Changing Nature of the Fire Threat. A number of factors have led to a significant increase in the intensity and severity of residential fires, including changes in home design, furnishing materials, and building construction.

Wildland Urban Interface Fires (WUI). For the firefighting community, this translates into a greater need for response to WUI fire incidents. We must continue to assist communities in reducing risk and mitigating the impact of WUI fires.

Demographic Changes. Over the coming decades, there is a risk that fire deaths and injuries among older adults will increase, based upon the projected increase in that segment of the population

Budgetary Realities. Current trends indicate that there may be a long-term reduction of emergency response budgets at the local, State, and Federal level.

Increasing Fire Service Role in Disaster Response. USFA has and must continue to work with fire service stakeholders and partners to expand local fire service participation in emergency preparedness.



Karter, MJ, Jr. (September 2012). “Fire Loss in the United States During 2011” (PDF). National Fire Protection Association Fire Analysis and Research Division. p. 24. Retrieved 2013-04-26.

Karter, MJ, Jr. (January 2013). “Fire department calls”. NFPA Website. National Fire Protection Association. Retrieved 2013-04-26.

Urbina, Ian (2009-09-03). “Firefighters Become Medics to the Poor”. New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-26.

Michèle Dagenais, Irene Maver, Pierre-Yves Saunier. Municipal services and employees in the modern city, p. 49

Maria Mudd-Ruth, Scott Sroka. Firefighting: Behind the Scenes, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998, p. 7

Hajishengallis, Olga (September 29, 2013). “Fire departments find it hard to recruit volunteers anymore”. Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). p. 14A. Retrieved September 29, 20

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