Advances in automatic fire and smoke detection, central station alarms, and automatic sprinklers have helped property losses decline slightly in the last decade. But despite the best efforts of builders, code officials, and fire prevention experts, the number of fires in multifamily residential buildings remains relatively consistent.
Recently, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) issued a special report, Multifamily Residential Building Fires (2012–2014), as part of the Topical Fire Report Series. The report examines the causes and trends of multifamily residential building fires as reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).
The buildings include apartments, townhouses, row houses, condominiums, and other tenement properties, which tend to have stricter fire and life-safety code requirements than one- and two-family dwellings.
On average, there are more than 100,000 multifamily residential building fires in the United States each year. The fires result in approximately 400 deaths, more than 4,000 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property losses. According to the report, cooking equipment was involved in:
- 45 percent of reported home structure fires
- 17 percent of home fire deaths
- 42 percent of home fire injuries
- 16 percent of direct property damage
Additionally, the report states that “cooking equipment was involved in more than two-thirds (69 percent) of reported apartment fires and about one-third (35 percent) of fires in one- or two-family homes, although it was the leading cause in both.” Cooking-related fires present a significant exposure in multifamily dwellings and commercial cooking properties.
Heating equipment had the second-highest fire frequency, at 5.3 percent. The remaining causes were relatively balanced between appliance fires, intentionally set fires, carelessness, and smoking-related incidents. The report also includes information on smoke alarm failure and the presence or lack of sprinkler systems in the structures.
Some other interesting details:
- Smoke alarms were present and operated in 38 percent of the fires.
- The evening hours (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) had the greatest frequency of fires, at 22 percent.
- Fires peaked, marginally, in January to a rate of 9.4 percent but held constant across the other months.
- The majority of multifamily residential building fires, 73.8 percent, did not extend beyond the original object or area of origin, such as the kitchen stove.
- When fires extended beyond the area of origin, the majority were cooking-related fires.
USFA’s Topical Fire Report Series, including the Multifamily Residential Building Fires (2012–2014) report, can be downloaded from the USFA website.
Resources to help property owners address cooking risks
Verisk Insurance Solutions’ Engineering and Safety Service (E&S™) offers several resources to help property owners address cooking risks, including:
Additional resources: Fire prevention, loss control, and workers comp
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Fred Bales, CFPS, CFI is a Manager of Fire Protection, Engineering and Safety Service at Verisk Insurance Solutions. He can be contacted at Fred.Bales@verisk.com.