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New report: Fatal fires are a social problem

Drug abuse, psychiatric disorders and alcoholic influences are common in fatalities in Norway, shows a study recently conducted by RISE Fire Research.
In order to provide a basis for focused and cost-effective fire prevention work, fatal fires over a decade have been analyzed. The project is unique because, for the first time in Norway, information about death fires from many different sources, such as the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection Statistics, Police Reports, Patient Records and Cause of Death Registry, have been collected and combined. This means that new knowledge has been gained, and a greater understanding of who dies in fire and why it starts to burn.

      "The project is unique because, for the first time in Norway, we have collected and combined information about fires from many different sources of data," says project manager and researcher Christian Sesseng.

 The results show that there are differences in what characterizes the fatalities over and under retirement age. Eighty-seven percent of all people under the age of 67 who died in the period 2005 - 2014 could be described with one or more risk factors, such as known substance abuse, alcoholic influence at the time of the fire, known mental illness or if the person was a smoker. In all 64% of the cases, at least two of these risk factors could be associated with the deceased.

For the group over the age of 67, we see that there are other risk factors: impaired ​mobility, mental disorders, smoking and reduced cognitive abilities, where the latter factor includes various forms of dementia. These factors did not occur in combination as much as we saw in the group of younger victims.

      "In other words, there are ​different reasons why young and old die in fatalities," Christian Sesseng emphasizes. 

 The analyzes further showed that the main cause of fatal fatalities was often human failure, and that there was the use of open fire which was the most frequent cause of fatalities. Open fire includes the use of candles and smoking. The fires usually occurred in rooms we spend the most time in: the living room and the bedroom.

      "The results show that fatalities are largely a social problem, and must be prevented accordingly," Sesseng continues.

It is important that the fire prevention work is carried out in interdisciplinary groups, where the fire department, the GP and the home service are represented, so that persons with the given risk factors can be identified and that targeted measures can be implemented.

The study was carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. The report is available here.