CPSC Fire Prevention Week Focuses Disproportionate Rate of African American Deaths in Home Fires

Federal safety officials have launched their annual fire safety awareness campaign, encouraging homeowners and renters to take precautionary steps to prevent an estimated 2,400 house fire deaths reportedly annually, which new data suggests disproportionately impacts African Americans households.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced its Fire Prevention Week campaign this week, which is set to run from October 3 through October 9, 2021, promoting a series of recommendations that can be taken to avoid tragic and potentially life threatening house fires.

New research by the CPSC indicates that between 2016 and 2018, there were an average of 360,000 home fires every year across the United States, resulting in approximately 2,400 deaths and 10,400 emergency room treated fire injuries, ranging from mild to severe burns. Of the documented house fire incidents, African Americans were recorded as having the highest rate of fire deaths and injuries, accounting for nearly twice the overall death rate, and more than twice the overall injury rate.

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According to the CPSC’s Residential Fire Loss Estimates report, African Americans represented an estimated 24% of all home fire deaths and 27% of home fire injuries, despite only accounting for 13% of the total U.S. population.

Acting CPSC Chairman, Bob Adler, stated the commission, along with state and local officials, must collectively do a better job to implement community outreach programs to communicate and encourage fire safety practices and guidelines that will help save lives. Adler further recommended local community leadership frontline these efforts to ensure awareness spreads.

The CPSC recommends having smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors placed outside of each sleeping area and at least one on every floor, and indicates that homeowners and occupants should make sure they are familiar with the audible signals the alarms present. The campaign specifically outlines the difference between a chirp, which means the batteries need replaced, and a beep, which means either smoke or CO has been detected and occupants should evacuate the house immediately.

Additional recommendations outlined in the awareness campaign include having a fire escape plan that is practiced at least twice per year. Occupants of a home such as the elderly or children who may need assistance exiting a home should be considered when developing the fire escape plan.

The CPSC is encouraging individuals to visit their multigenerational tool kit website and fire safety information center for information on how to develop an ideal fire safety plan.

Officials also recommend consumers use a fire and carbon monoxide combination detector due to the inability to quickly identify carbon monoxide gases, which, unlike smoke from a fire, is invisible and has no smell.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. The gas is often referred to as the “silent killer,” since it is difficult to detect without the use of a properly functioning detector or alarm, and is a leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States.

The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure may cause feelings of nausea, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and shortness of breath, whereas prolonged exposure may result in mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle coordination or control, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death. It is common for individuals to mistake the initial symptoms of CO exposure for the flu, often times prolonging treatment and causing increased adverse health effects.

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