First Reaction to Fire Often Incorrect -- Men, Women React Differently

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Americans' first reactions to a building fire could place them in greater danger, according to nationwide survey conducted by the Society for Fire Protection Engineers. Only 28 percent of Americans answered that their first action in a fire emergency would be to leave the burning building, which is the safest response. In addition, the survey found that there are significant differences in the way that men and women react to a fire.

At first glance this seems like a sensible response

Americans' first reactions to a building fire could place them in greater danger, according to nationwide survey conducted by Bethesda, MD-based Society for Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) reveals.

When asked "If there were a fire in your building, what would be your first action?" 39 percent of respondents said they would call the fire department.

"At first glance this seems like a sensible response," said Chris Jelenewicz, SFPE Engineering Program Manager. "However, people should first exit the building and then call the fire department once in a safe location."

Only 28 percent of Americans answered that their first action in a fire emergency would be to leave the burning building.

Other responses included notifying others (24 percent), fighting the fire (four percent), searching for the source of fire (three percent), and search for more information (two percent).

"The results of this survey are concerning," says Jelenewicz. "Delays before deciding to evacuate, time spent searching for the fire, gathering belongings and trying to fight the fire are behaviors that have been observed repeatedly in real fire situations."

When comparing the results of this survey to research on how humans behave in fire, a study of 335 fire incidents that occurred in the United States found the top three first reactions were: notifying others (15 percent), fighting the fire (10 percent) and searching for the fire (10 percent). Exiting the building, was not even among the top five things people do when they know there is a fire.

The survey also revealed that the elderly, statistically a high-risk group from fires, generally respond incorrectly. Over half of people 65 years old or older would first call the fire department, compared to 30 percent who would exit the building first.

The survey also shows that men are much more likely to try to fight the fire than women. Seven percent of men said that they would fight the fire, compared to less than one percent of women.

"There are significant differences in the way that men and women react to a fire," said Jelenewicz. "Generally, men are more likely to try and fight a fire. On the other hand, women are more likely to alert others and evacuate the building."

The survey was commissioned by the Society for Fire Protection Engineers in January, 2007 by Synovate, and polled more than one thousand American adults. The findings have a margin of error of plus (+) or minus (-) three percent.

Understanding how people might behave in fire emergencies is an important field of research in the fire protection engineering profession. This research is used by fire protection engineers to make buildings safer from fire.

For more information about how fire protection engineers make the world safe from fire, go to http://www.sfpe.org.

About the Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Organized in 1950, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers is the professional society for engineers involved in the field of fire protection engineering. The purposes of SFPE are to advance the science and practice of fire protection engineering, maintain a high ethical standing among its members and foster fire protection engineering education. SFPE's worldwide members include engineers in private practice, in industry and in local, regional and national government. Chapters are located in Canada, China, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

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