Fire risk management in ageing populations

A recent update from Statistics New Zealand shows that our population is getting older:  the 65+ age group has nearly doubled since 1981.

This demographic change has a flow-on effect on the types of dwellings and residences that people choose. Statistics NZ data shows that 32,000 older NZers now live in residential care.

What are the implications of these changes, for fire risk management?

NZ Fire Service recently commissioned research surveying older people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour towards home security and fire risk management. This research, published in 2015, can be viewed here.

Other countries with ageing populations are also looking into this issue:

This February 2015 article looks at trends in Japan in the dwelling types of elderly people and the risk of death due to fire in these settings.  The author points out that,

“In Japan, approximately 1,400 people die annually in fires (excluding suicide by fire). The ratio of people aged 65 years or older accounts for approximately 60% of these fire fatalities.”

He notes the rise in the number of nursing homes for the elderly and states:

“Even with some improvements to fire safety equipment in these facilities, there remains the problem of how to provide fire safety for elderly people who may find evacuation difficult.”

This detailed and technical article looks at the Canadian elderly residential care situation. These authors also point out the difficulties of evacuation in these settings and argue in favour of retro-fitting sprinklers. They provide a case study of such a project.


New National Civil Defence Emergency Plan released

A new national CDEM Plan will come into force on 1 December 2015.  Just released by the Minister, the new plan is part of the mandated revision cycle. It was delayed to incorporate learnings from the Canterbury earthquakes.​

Read more 

New Zealand’s new Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan approved
Press release, Hon Nikki Kaye, 5 June

Read the plan here – an Order in Council (what is that?)

National civil defence emergency management​ plan order 2015

Revised national civil defence emergency management plan – FAQ,  June 2015​

False alarms at student halls drop by 80% – Glasgow

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have partnered with Glasgow University to drastically reduce false alarm call outs to student halls of residents.  The key has been engaging with students with fire safety education and the use of new “smart detector” alarms in the halls of residence.

​Glasgow partnership sees 80% drop in false alarms at student halls
Scottish Fire and Rescue – press release, 1 May

False fire alarm call-outs at Glasgow student halls drop by80%​
Glasgow Evening Times, 28 May

Scottish Fire and Rescue – Student Safety leaflet

IAFSS archive on Google Scholar

A Google scholar search will now pick up content from the International Association of Fire safety science publication archive.  Sources include:

Press release from IAFSS  (30 April).

NZ study shows smoke alarms less likely in rental homes

Interviews with the parents of almost 7,000 children under two years old, found that 28% of privately owned rentals don’t have working smoke alarms.

The study found:
 Families who lived in private rental homes were less likely to have a working smoke alarm (28% without smoke alarm) than those who lived in their own home (14%), or in public or social rental accommodation (9%). In addition, families who lived in the most deprived areas (NZDep deciles 8-10) were less likely to have a working smoke alarm than those who lived in the least deprived areas (NZDep deciles 1-3).
Around 80% of households kept matches out of reach.
Read the summary on the lives of 2 year olds, from the Growing up in New Zealand, longitudinal study.
Or read the full report
Growing Up in New Zealand is New Zealand’s contemporary longitudinal study tracking the development of approximately 7,000 New Zealand children from before birth until they are young adults. The children were born between April 2009 and March 2010. The study is run out of the University of Auckland.
The study has produced 5 major reports to date.

Quebec tragedy inquest

Volunteer training and fire safety provisions are in focus in Canada, in the aftermath of a January fire in a seniors’ residence which left 32 people dead.

A coronial inquiry to the fire in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec, began in November. It has been extended.  It has generated some media.

 Quebec government boosts funding for volunteer firefighters CBC news, Montreal 12 Dec

  • Quebec Public Safety Minister Lise Thériault says program will cost $19.5M over five years
  • Witnesses who testified at an ongoing coroner’s inquest into the incident have described firefighters arriving ill-prepared for the scale of the blaze


L’Isle-Verte residence met all government norms, inquest told Montreal Gazette, 17 Nov

“Because it was built in 1997, the wing of the Résidence du Havre that burned was not required to have sprinklers and smoke detectors in residents’ rooms were not connected to a central alarm system, the inquiry heard.

An adjoining wing of the residence, built in 2003, was equipped with sprinklers and was separated by a firewall. It did not burn and its residents escaped the fire.”


L’Isle-Verte rescue effort was ‘free for all,’ witness says
CBC news, Montreal 27 Nov
“Good Samaritan Pascal Paquin traumatized by what he witnessed during rescue effort.”


Fire Safety Assessment Report for Licensed Residential Care Facilities and Registered Assisted Living Residences  (pdf)
November 17, 2014
“Following a tragic fire at a seniors` residence in Quebec….. British Columbia (BC)is reviewing the fire safety provisions in residential care facilities and registered assisted living residences.”

Evidence base for fire prevention

A case study of the Delaware Fire Service shows that community partnerships are key for effective fire safety programmes.
Read a summary of the study from Science Daily.
The study, which involved in-depth interviews with members of the state’s fire service, highlights the diversity of prevention initiatives underway in the state and documents how tradition, dedication, and a sense of community are keys to success for the program.
The research was done by the prestigious Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.  They conclude that
The fire service is an important part of the public health infrastructure
Contact us if you want to read the full article – we don’t own the journal, and will get it from another library for you.
Fire Prevention in Delaware: A Case Study of Fire and Life Safety Initiatives  (abstract only)
Frattaroli, Shannon
Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, November/December 2011 , vol 17(6) : 492–498

Dwelling Fire Severity Index – London

From the London Fire Brigade

The Brigade has taken an innovative new approach and designed a system to rate the severity of house fires. The index ranks fires as severe, significant, moderate or slight and shows that in the last year 2,257 fires, a third of all house fires, were severe. 2011 figures are summarised in the press release.

You can read more on figures for 2010 and the development of the index in these reports to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

The Severity of Fire in Dwellings (March 2011)

The severity of fire in dwellings: further analysis (June 2011)