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Data on residential fires across the European Union

Each year, over 5,000 people die in residential fires in Europe, according to conservative estimates. According to conservative estimates, the number of injured is approximately tenfold that. The term “estimate” is not thrown around casually. As UK Member of the European Parliament Theresa Griffin stated during the European Fire Safety Week 2019 opening ceremony, ‘we collect data on almost everything except residential fires’.

And this is completely accurate. Given the (estimated) number of fatalities, it is both surprising and truly inexplicable that there are no EU-wide statistics on residential fires. Up-to-date, accurate, and reliable data is critical for developing an effective fire prevention policy. However, it is unknown what exactly occurs when a fire occurs in a residential environment.

Statistics on fires

Although numerous figures, studies, reports, and documents are available in various European countries,

There is a dearth of comprehensive EU-wide data on residential fires and uniform definitions. Nonetheless, some European data are available. For example, in 2018, the EuroFSA published research on fatal residential fires in nine European countries. As the EuroFSA anticipates that individual countries will have a better understanding of broader fire safety statistics, it intends to share national data at the European level.

Additionally, the EU recognized that a lack of EU-wide data and a lack of an EU-wide data collection format impedes data comparison and thus the effective assessment of potential best practices and successful (fire) safety approaches. As a result, the European Parliament adopted a pilot project proposal on fire safety in 2018. The European Commission will now oversee the pilot project’s implementation in order to close existing gaps in fire data. This pilot aims to map existing data and develop a proposal for addressing the lack of common data. As such, it aims to pave the way for pan-European efforts in the field of fire safety.

Who is the most vulnerable?

The elderly, children, and people with a physical disability are the most common victims of a residential fire, according to data collected from several countries. However, in order to know how to proceed, one must first understand why this is the case. Figure 8, taken from a study of fatal residential fires in nine European countries, demonstrates, for example, that people who are less self-sufficient (such as the elderly) are frequently victims of fires even when they are vigilant. Additionally, the data demonstrates that the presence of a smoke detector does not provide a true solution for this high-risk group. This demonstrates that increased insight into data results in a better understanding of the risk groups and the solutions that work or do not work for them.

What should our primary objective be?

Given that approximately 80% of all fire-related deaths and injuries occur in homes, accurate statistics on these types of fires must be collected. These statistics should not only focus on the occurrence of such fires but also include information about the human, building, and fire characteristics. Because it is precisely this combination of characteristics that provides valuable insight into what is occurring and the measures that can be taken to prevent fires and casualties.

Human characteristics include the victims’ gender, age, and level of self-reliance. The type of dwelling, the construction method, and the insulation materials used all contribute to the building’s characteristics. The cause of the fire, the ignition source, and the room in which the fire originated are all examples of fire characteristics that should be included in these statistics.

With the high number of fires, injuries, and fatalities, it is unnecessary to collect data on all residential fires. A random sample would suffice to obtain a reliable picture of residential fires in the European Union. On the basis of these statistics, actions can be taken to reduce the number of residential fires and their associated fatalities.

It is also necessary to be able to compare the data of different Member States in order for them to learn from one another. And this is critically needed because, at the moment, the difference in fire fatalities between Member States that do relatively ‘well’ and those that do relatively ‘bad’ is more than a factor ten.

How can we improve data collection on residential fires across the EU?

The European Commission must take the lead in ensuring that data from different Member States is comparable. The first critical step has been taken with the launch of the EU pilot project to examine how Member States collect data on fires and to compare this to the practices of several countries outside the EU. However, given the critical nature of obtaining reliable and comparable data, this pilot project on fire statistics should be viewed as a first step in the right direction. Additionally, because it will take at least five years before sufficient data is available to implement actual policies based on the statistics, no time should be wasted following the completion of the project. Thus, the pilot project must be immediately followed by systematic data collection at the European level and integration into Eurostat. To accomplish this, the pilot project should be followed by another preparatory action spearheaded by the European Parliament.