Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Statistics show children die in U.S. fires
most days of the year, and the government is starting a campaign
that aims to help parents avoid such accidents.
"People don't realize how quickly a fire spreads through a
house - especially the children," said R. David Paulison, the
national fire administrator. "As adults, it's our job to teach
them and protect them until they get to the point where they do
Children 4 and under are more than twice as likely to die in
residential fires than the rest of the population, said a report
being released Wednesday by the Federal Emergency Management
At least 312 children died in residential fires in 2000, the
most recent figure available from the Center for Disease Control
and Prevention in Atlanta.
"A baby or toddler under age five dies nearly every day in a
residential fire," Homeland Security undersecretary Michael Brown
said in a statement. "These young children have a
disproportionately higher risk than the rest of the population."
While children under 5 make up only 7.4 percent of the nation's
population, the age group accounts for 16.1 percent of all fire
The study looked at figures from 1989 through 1998, finding
35,376 people had died in fires during that time, 5,712 of them
Nationally, fire is the third leading cause of death for young
children. It's the top killer in 13 states and the District of
Columbia, the FEMA study found.
The government campaign stresses proper installation of smoke
alarms, safe storage of lighters and matches and development of a
fire evacuation plan. The campaign's theme: "Prepare. Practice.
Prevent the Unthinkable."
About 10 percent of U.S. households don't have smoke alarms,
according to a Consumer Product Safety Commission survey. Of the
households that do, nearly 20 percent - about 16 million - don't
have one that works.
"The majority of the children who die in fires die in those
homes that don't have working smoke alarms," Paulison said.
The CPSC has begun a study into the sound effectiveness of smoke
alarms, a response to reports that children and seniors can sleep
through the alarms.
Spokesman Ken Giles said the commission's study results won't be
out for several years, but the findings may indicate simply that
children are deep sleepers and adults must plan for their fire
Only about 25 percent of families have actually developed and
practiced a home fire escape plan, the FEMA study found. Experts
say fire safety requires a range of measures.
For it's part, the CPSC tries to attack the fire problem from
every angle: "We try to make the ignition sources safer, we try to
make the fuels less likely to burn and we try to make the smoke
alarm as effective as possible so that people can wake up and get
out alive," Giles said.
CPSC regulations on child-resistant lighters contributed to a
sharp drop in lighter-related child fire deaths - a 43 percent
decline between 1994 (when the new rules started) and 1998.
Still, U.S. children under the age of five have death rates
roughly four times the rate of their Japanese counterparts, the
FEMA report said.
In Sweden, the rate of children dying in fires is below the
national average. The rate for U.S. children is about twice the
national average.
"That's unacceptable," said Paulison.
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