Despite Fewer Fires, Firefighter Calls Have Tripled Since 1985

Data from the just-released report from the NFPA shows that only 4 percent of calls are fires. Two thirds were medical aid or rescue calls.

The data shows that the role of the modern firefighter is poorly understood by the public. Only a tiny portion of a firefighter’s time is spent dousing flames.  That’s not to say their role as the last line of defense in fires is less important—nor that the problem of house fires is well in hand. As the NFPA points out, declining numbers of overall fires can be misleading.

While total reported fires have generally declined over the past 15 years, this is primarily due to a drop in the number of vehicle fires and outside and unclassified fires. The decline in structure fires has been much smaller. In 2015, structure fires accounted for 37% of reported fires, with home structure fires representing 2 7% of the total. Home structure fires caused 78% of all civilian fire deaths, 71% of civilian fire injuries, and 49% of total direct property damage. Vehicle fires accounted for 15% of the reported fires. Almost half (48%) of the reported fires were outside, non-structure, non-vehicle fires or other unclassified fires.

In general fire departments have been more succesful in reducing the number of fire casualties in apartments and multi-family units than in homes. In fact, “Fifty-four percent (270,500) of all reported structure fires occurred in one-

and two-family homes, including manufactured homes; 19% (95,000) occurred in apartments.”

Also, because of the rapid rise in housing values, the actual property losses from fires adjusted for inflation has actually increased since 1977: The adjusted loss per structure fire was 40% higher in 2015 than it was in 1977, although still 23% lower than the 2008 peak.”