Dangerous Situations, Scary Statistics: Be Aware for Safe Holidays

Frosted window with Christmas decorationWith the Holiday season ramping up into full swing I thought it would be a good idea to share some information we have been going over in the firehouse in preparation for the Holidays. Everything from fires to falls to poisonings. I am very big on statistics and these numbers can be very eye opening but also very helpful if you keep them in mind this holiday season. I am borrowing this from the The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) in the hopes that you have a happy and safe holidays and don’t make Santa visit anyone in the hospital.

While the winter holiday season is traditionally a festive time of year filled with colorful decorations and family gatherings, it is too often a time of tragedy and loss as well. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics indicate that 30% of all home fires and 38% of home fire deaths occur during the months of December, January, and February. These winter fires result from a variety of sources. According to reports from the United States Fire Administration (USFA), incidence of fires caused by cooking, heating, and open flame all increase during the winter holidays. USFA also notes that winter holiday fires are more severe than the average fire during the year across all loss measures. Holiday decoration and Christmas tree fires, in particular, are substantially more damaging than other fires. These fires result in twice the injuries and five times the fatalities per fire as the average winter holiday home fire. During 2004-2008, an average of 260 home fires each year started with Christmas trees. Another 150 home fires per year were caused by decorative and holiday lights.

Fire is not the only danger facing families during the holiday season. Injuries resulting from falls are a serious concern this time of year as well. About 5,800 individuals are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for injuries sustained from falls involving holiday decorations. In addition, 4,000 people a year are treated in emergency rooms for injuries associated with extension cords. Half of these injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains as a result of people tripping over the cords.

The risk of poisonings also increases during the holiday period, resulting not only from common household items, but also carbon monoxide (CO). The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that in 2007 the majority of CO deaths occurred in the colder months of November through February.

Fire-Related Statistics

U.S. Home Structure Fires:

  • During 2005-2009, there was an average of 373,900 home fires each year, resulting in an annual average of 2,650 deaths, 12,890 injuries, and $7.1 billion in property damage.
  • During 2005-2009, roughly one of every 310 households had a reported home fire per year.
  • Almost half of home fires (47%) and more than half (54%) of home fire deaths occur in the cooler months of November through March.

Cooking Fires:

  • girl frying bacon in panCooking equipment is the leading cause of reported home structure fires and injuries. It is also the leading cause of unreported fires.
  • During 2004-2008, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 154,700 home cooking fires each year. These fires caused an annual average of 460 deaths, 4,850 injuries, and $724 million in property damage.
  • Unattended cooking equipment is the leading cause of home cooking fires.
  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that in 2004-2005, for every household cooking fire reported to the fire department, U.S. households experienced 50 cooking equipment fires that they did not report.
  • Two of every five reported home fires started in the kitchen or cooking area.
  • Home fires involving cooking peak on dates that are major U.S. holidays with traditions of cooking, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve.

Heating Fires:

  • Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire deaths.
  • In 2008, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 66,100 home fires, resulting in 480 deaths, 1,660 injuries and $1.1 billion in property damage.
  • Space heaters result in far more fires and losses than central heating devices and have higher risks relative to usage.
  • 32% of home heating fires (approximately 21,000) and 82% of home heating fire deaths (394) are caused by space heaters.

Electrical Fires:

  • Home electrical distribution and lighting systems are the fourth leading cause of home fires, after cooking equipment, heating equipment, and intentional fires.
  • In the United States, 50,900 fires each year are attributed to electrical failure or malfunction, resulting in 490 deaths and 1,440 injuries. Arcing faults are a major cause of these fires.
  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that AFCIs could prevent more than 50 percent of the electrical fires that occur every year.
  • About 3,300 residential fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 others.

Home Fire Victims:

  • Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.
  • Children under five years old are almost 1-1/2 times more likely to die in a home fire as the average person.
  • The peak months for home fires that cause child casualties are December through February.
  • In 2007, nearly 510 children under the age of 15 died as a result of fires, another estimated 1,900 children were injured by fires.
  • Adults over age 65 are more than twice as likely as the average person to die in a home fire.
  • In one of every five fire deaths, the fire started when something that could catch fire was too close to a heat source.

Household Injuries and Accidents

  • More than 30,000 non-fatal shock accidents occur each year.
  • Each year in the U.S., more than 100,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms due to a scalding injury.
  • Hot tap water accounts for nearly 1 in 4 of all scald burns among children and is associated with more deaths and hospitalizations than any other hot liquid burns.
  • Each day, nearly 7 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for electrical shock or burn injuries caused by tampering with a wall outlet.
  • In 2007, over 98,000 children ages 14 and under were treated for burn injuries in hospital emergency rooms.
  • The most common causes of product-related thermal burn injuries among children ages 14 and under are hair curlers, curling irons, room heaters, ovens/ranges, and irons.
  • In 2009, ranges and ovens were involved in an estimated 17,300 thermal burn injuries seen in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. 36% (5,600) of these burn victims were under the age of 5.
  • Heating equipment accounted for 58,660 injuries reported to hospital emergency rooms in 2009. Space heaters accounted for 19% of the total injuries, but more than two-thirds of the thermal burn injuries.
  • For every 10 poison exposures in children, approximately 9 occur in the home.

Decorating Statistics

  • Christmas lights - watch for overloadsIn 2004-2008, an estimated 1,170 home fires per year began with decorations, excluding Christmas trees. These fires caused an annual average of 8 deaths, 54 injuries, and $19.1 million in property damage.
  • Christmas tree and holiday decoration fires result in twice the injuries and 5 times more fatalities per fire than the average winter holiday fire.
  • On average, 260 home fires begin with Christmas trees each year, resulting in 12 deaths, 24 injuries and $16.4 million in property damage.
  • An additional 150 home fires per year begin with holiday lights and other decorative lighting, causing another 8 deaths, 16 injuries, and $8.9 million in property damage each year.
  • Candles started 45% of home decoration fires.
  • December is the peak time of year for candle fires.
  • Christmas, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Day are the top 3 days of the year for candle fires.
  • Roughly 5,800 people per year were treated in hospital emergency rooms for falls associated with holiday decorations. More than half of these injuries were caused by falls from ladders or roofs while decorating outdoors.
  • CPSC estimates that each year, about 4,000 injuries associated with electric extension cords are treated in hospital emergency rooms. 50% of these injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains from people tripping over extension cords. 13% of these injuries involve children less than five years of age; electrical burns to the mouth accounted for 50% of the injuries to young children.

Fatality Statistics:

  • Each year, there is an estimated average of 60 electrocutions associated with consumer products. The three most common product categories associated with electrocutions are small appliance, power tool, and lighting equipment.
  • Every year in the U.S., more than 2,600 people are killed in home fires.
  • In the U.S., injury is the leading cause of death among children and young adults, and nearly half of these accidents occur in the home, according to the National Safety Council.
  • Worldwide, accidental injury kills more than 2,000 children each and every day.
  • According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 70 percent of child-related electrical accidents occur at home, when adult supervision is present.
  • Fires and burns are the third leading cause of unintentional death among children 14 and under.
  • On average, 184 people die each year from non-fire, carbon monoxide poisoning associated with consumer products. The two most common product categories associated with non-fire carbon monoxide deaths are engine-driven tools (38%) and heating systems (38%).

I hope these numbers give you some things to keep in mind this holiday season and keep you and your family safe.

Have a Happy Holidays


Editor’s Note: Why share this scary information right before the holidays? Because most of these situations are preventable! Sometimes all it takes is a little awareness to avert a tragedy. Be aware…be safe…and have a happy and healthy holiday!

About the Author

Greg Atwood is a Firefighter /Paramedic in Coral Gables Florida and works for the Coral Gables Fire Rescue. He is an American Heart Association certified instructor in BLS ( Basic Life Support ), ACLS ( Advanced Cardiopulmonary Life Support ), and PALS ( Pediatric Advanced Life Support ). Greg currently lives in Miami Florida with his beautiful wife Alexa and their 2 sons, Connor and Jake. Greg is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


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