Fire death rate higher now than in 1980

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Oct 12, 2018 6:41 PM

(Harrisburg) -- A person whose home caught fire last year had a greater risk of dying in that fire than they would have in 1980, according to a recent report from the National Fire Protection Association.

The total number of deaths from home fires has decreased over the years, but the risk of death has ticked up.

The report shows for every 1,000 reported fires in 2017, there were 7.4 fatalities, up four percent from 1980.

Fire officials say that's due to the different materials used to build and furnish homes today, which are lighter and catch fire more quickly.

Harrisburg Fire Chief Brian Enterline said forty years ago it could take up to thirty minutes for an entire room to catch fire.

"Today that's happening in three to five minutes, because...the petroleum-based products that we have and all the glues and the synthetics that we're using-- they're just so susceptible to sudden ignition because of their low ignition temperatures," Enterline said.

Enterline said new single-family homes could be safer if builders were required to install sprinkler systems.

But he said, so far, the state legislature has failed to add the requirement to the Pennsylvania building code.

"And that's frustrating on our side because we know that every house we build is a potential death trap because it doesn't have that sprinkler system in it," Enterline said. 

Enterline said people should make sure they have working smoke detectors in their homes. 

He said a common theme in fatal fires is smoke detectors are missing or not working properly. The Harrisburg Bureau of Fire will provide and install the detectors for free. 

There have been two fire deaths in the city so far this year.

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