Retired FEMA EFO: “We need to change the way people think and feel about fire death”

Blog Post created by lorrainecarli Employee on Mar 4, 2019

In a recent TV interview, retired Fire Officer and FEMA Executive Fire Officer, Dr. Burton Clark shared insights about the state of fire safety today. A TV host with NewsChannel5 in Nashville, Tennessee opened up the discussion by pointing out a quote in Clark’s book, I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying where he says, “Society needs to change how it thinks and feels about fire death.”

Clark responded by saying, “We can do better at preventing and surviving fire at all levels of society. To underscore his perspective and to reinforce the fire and life safety ecosystem that NFPA has been advocating for, Clark discussed the issue of complacency at length. Here are some of the gems from that interview.


  • Clark set the stage by talking about a 2017 survey out of California’s Chapman University that asked what people are afraid of. “They came up with 80 things and fire was not on that list of 80 things. Actually, zombies and ghosts were like 78 and 79, but fire was not on the list at all in terms of what people are afraid of,” the 40-year fire service veteran said.
  • “I am not blaming anybody (for not being concerned about fire). That is the way society has been almost from the Ben Franklin days. We are still stuck in a basic manual fire protection model, which means that when there is a fire people have to get on something, and go to where the fire is and put it out. Now we have big shiny apparatus and big hoses, and all the gear, but we are still doing the same thing. Somebody has to discover the fire, somebody has to be notified, and then we have to respond to it, to put the fire out. That is a manual fire protection model.”
  • “The difference is for the 21st century, we need to move to an automatic fire protection model, meaning that when the fire starts, the smoke alarm goes off to alert people, then the sprinkler head goes off, and the water puts the fire out. Then, the fire service can come. That is the only way that we will ever really solve the American fire problem. It is hard to do better with that manual fire protection model. We need to transition to an automatic building fire protection model.”


Clark told the interviewer that last year in Tennessee there were 99 fire deaths. “With all the best fire service in Tennessee, we still lost 99 people. Nationwide there were 2,278 fire fatalities in homes last year. We are doing the best that we can, but that’s not good enough. I think we can do better.”


To promote and advocate for home fire sprinklers, use NFPA and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition resources.