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America’s ‘Fire Problem’: Myth or Reality? By Rob Neale, Vice President, National Fire Service Activities, International Code Council T he famous management consultant, W. Edwards Deming, once said, “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.” Unfortunately, there are many people quick to offer their opinion when it comes to the question of whether the United States has a “fire problem,” or if it is simply a phrase that has taken on a life of its own. Certainly, any unwanted fire is a problem. In many cases, fires cause outright tragedies. News channels are full of reports of multi-fatality fires1 or significant property losses.2 Thankfully, the frequency of these events is not what it once was; the data show fire incidents are declining across the United States (See Figure 1). According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “Over the last 15 years, the total number of fires that local municipal fire departments reported continues to be on a downward trend for a decrease of 29 percent. Over this same period, however, the number of structure fires has remained relatively constant.”3 Compared to the rest of the developed world, the U.S. fares poorly in its fire numbers. Table 1 shows the average number of fires reported per year in several countries.4 OCTOBER 2016 | 27


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