National campaign to stress fire safety kicks off today
By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY
Children age 4 and under, those least able to make their way to safety without help, account for roughly half of all childhood deaths and injuries suffered in fires, a federal report to be released today finds.
Children under the age of 5 made up 52 percent of the deaths of children under age 16 in fires in 2007, researchers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) found in analyzing the most current data. They were 46 percent of the injuries that year.
Researchers found deaths among the youngest of children increased 2 percent from 2004 to 2007. Next to drowning, deaths from fire and burns was the second-leading cause of accidental deaths outside of transportation accidents for children under age 15 in 2007. Nearly 510 children died in fires that year.
"Any fire death is unfortunate, but the greatest tragedy is when you see so many that affect children 4 years and younger," says FEMA director Craig Fugate.
With cold gripping much of the nation, fire deaths are mounting - often from electrical heaters, fireplace mishaps or candles used for heat and light during power outages, Fugate says. "In November, we started to see more residential fires," he says. "It seemed like very week we were seeing a multideath fire involving children."
Each year, more than 3,500 Americans die in fires and roughly 18,300 are injured, the National Fire Protection Association reports.
The FEMA report - drawn from the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Fire Incident Reporting System and the National Fire Protection Survey - says children account for 13 percent of all fire deaths and 11 percent of injuries.
Although children are less likely to die in fires than the population as a whole - with 8.3 deaths per million deaths among children under age 15 vs. 13.2 per million in the general population - the youngest children face the highest risk of all children of dying or being injured, federal statistics show.
Children 9 and younger accounted for 93 percent of deaths and 38 percent of injuries where the cause of a residential fire was reported to be "playing with a heat source," researchers say.
The lack of a working smoke detector has been linked with nearly 25 percent of fatal residential fires, though just 3 percent of homes do not have smoke alarms installed, the report says. Studies carried out in Australia and Canada have shown that sleeping children often do not react quickly enough when a smoke alarm goes off and must be roused by an adult.
"Little kids just can't get out by themselves, " Fugate says. "Kids need to be rescued. If the adults in the household don't know what's going on until it's too late, they're going to perish."
What's most distressing, says Mark Shriver, chairman of the National Commission on Children and Disaster, is that "we're trending upward. It's not getting better."
To turn the tide, Fugate says, FEMA, the commission and more than two-dozen other organizations will launch a national campaign today to promote fire safety. The federal agency will post safety tips and other information at www.ready.gov/kidsfiresafety. FEMA also is promoting a dialogue on Twitter, using the hashtag (POUND)kidsfiresafety.