A few weeks ago, we received an inquiry in the Research, Data and Analytics Division for data on the number of fires in U.S. fire stations. The request originated with a reporter, who may have been inspired to follow up on a recent news report of a fire at a volunteer fire station in Missouri that destroyed the building and the department’s three vehicles. In any case, it wasn’t a question I’d encountered before or given much thought to, but it was certainly a reasonable question and merited running the numbers.
So what did we learn?
Using data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and the NFPA Fire Experience survey, we estimate that between 2010 and 2014, there were an average of 100 structure fires at U.S. fire departments each year, with direct property damage each year estimated at $2.5 million. There were no fatalities resulting from these fires. The data also indicate that there were another 170 vehicle fires at fire stations each year over the same time period, with an annual average of $2.1 million in direct property damage and one civilian injury associated with these fires. It’s worth noting that the vehicles on fire station grounds could include personal as well as official vehicles.
One-third of the fire station structure fires (32% of total) originated in a kitchen or cooking area. This is often the case with occupancies that have kitchen facilities. Almost one-quarter (23%) of the structure fires had incident type codes that indicated a cooking fire confined to the object of origin. Cooking fires accounted for just 3% of direct property damage associated with fire station fires. The second leading area of origin was garage or vehicle storage area, with 9% of fires and 8% of direct property damage, followed by fires originating in an office, with 6% of fires -- but 15% of direct property damage. Vehicle fires most often originated in the vehicle’s engine area, running gear, or wheel area of the vehicle (44% of total), with another 18% originating in the passenger area, and 12% in the cargo or trunk area.
As with other types of properties, fire stations are at risk of fire, whether due to mechanical or electrical failure, cooking materials, arson, or due to some other factor. Fortunately, many of these fires are small and don’t substantially impact fire department services. But in other cases, the fires may cause significant damage to vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure, and thereby threaten to disrupt vital services, as well as potentially undermine the health and safety of firefighter health and safety. Prevention efforts are accordingly as important inside the fire station as they are in the community.