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NFPA Impact: A modest proposal for reporting fire losses

In the past it had been very difficult to put a finger on the number of unreported fires in Canada. These unreported fires also make it more difficult for the fire service to properly convey the serious threat that fire plays in our daily lives.  Many were and remain unaware of the magnitude of the threat.

December 7, 2007
By Sean Tracey

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seantracey2In the past it had been very difficult to put a finger on the number of unreported fires in Canada. These unreported fires also make it more difficult for the fire service to properly convey the serious threat that fire plays in our daily lives.  Many were and remain unaware of the magnitude of the threat. Furthermore, each time one of these fires goes unreported to the local fire service it is a missed opportunity to educate people. I have a modest proposal that would see more of these fires reported. The result would be increased chance for the public educators to deal with the public and a truer picture of the threat fire plays to Canadians.

Currently the number of fires in residential properties in Canada is reported through each province, compiled by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and then published by the Canadian Council of Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners. In 2001 the official number of reported residential fires was 21,494, however, we have a strong sense that the actual number of fires is greater. In some cases fires may go unreported to the local fire department because the fire was extinguished by the homeowner. In other cases the fires may go unreported by the local fire department due to lack of resources, or lack of understanding of the need to track these figures. Another problem we are finding in promoting residential fire sprinklers is tracking successful activations of these systems.

I propose that all fire loss insurance claims be supported with a fire report to the local fire department. This proposal would pick up many of these. Requiring the fires service and insurers to work together may give us a clear picture of the threat fire continues to pose in our society.

When these fires go unreported the fire services misses the opportunity to provide life saving public education or prevention services — our first line of defence. The risky behaviour or situation that lead to the original fire may be repeated without any opportunity for correction. I propose that each provincial fire marshal/commissioner work with the Insurance Bureau of Canada to require every fire insurance loss claim to be substantiated with a fire loss report completed at the local fire department. I am not suggesting a complete fire investigation but a simple fire report. The report may not have necessarily required the fire department to respond to the property but that the prevention and or public education division or individual be contacted. This is similar to what is asked in most motor vehicle claims — claims need to be supported with a police report.

When the fire department is contacted to report the fire they would be able to offer a number of public safety services based on the departments capabilities. This could be in the form of an information bulletin, complimentary fire safety inspection, verification of smoke alarms or even a local program to sponsor installations. The insurance industry would potentially benefit because an education program to correct unsafe practices would result, unsubstantiated claims may be reduced, and in the long run fire losses may actually be reduced. This proposal can be achieved without code changes, or regulatory changes. It just requires the Canadian fire service to convince the insurers of their mutual benefit.

We are not recording all the residential fires in Canada. This modest proposal would be one method to increase the spread of the fire safety education programs. If you support this proposal approach your fire marshal or fire commissioners office, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, as well as your provincial associations. We need to do this at a national level and we need their leadership in a combined approach to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Sean Tracey, P.Eng., is the Canadian regional manager of NFPA International and formerly the Canadian Armed Forces Fire Marshal. He may be reached at 613-830-9102, e-mail stracey@nfpa.org .


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