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Ideas from Europe that Could Improve
. Fire Safety
December 1982
Philip S
. Schaenman
A Mem~r ok tF.e 57C Gmap
Ideas from Europe that Could Improve
U.S. Fire Safety
December 1982
Philip S
. Schaenman
A f-0emcer of the SPC Group15C0 bVilson Bocievard
Arlington, Virginia 22209
/7031 841-2975
A.Approach 14
B.Timing 16
Background 17
A.Attitudes and Fire Safety Education 19
Codes and Construction
30 and Arson
Chimney Sweeps 45
E.Consumer Product Safety Regulation
Fire Prevention Bureaus 49
B.Personal Protective Equipment
Safety Practices and Physical Fitness 62
D.Fire Suppression Organization 65
E.Government Fire Protection Organizations 77
Emergency Medical Services 85
B.Hazardous Materials
The United States and Canada continue to lead the world in fire deaths
per capita. We have double the European average, and are four to five
times higher than the countries that do best. We also are among the
highest in the number of building fires per capita.
To better understand the reasons for the success of European fire
protection and to identify practices we might adopt in the United States,
the author met with many fire protection leaders in Europe in 1980, and
again in 1982. The initial work was conducted while the author was Associ-
ate Administrator of the U
.S. Fire Administration. The work was completed
under a grant provided to TriData by The Tobacco Institute. The informa-
tion and conclusions contained in this report are, however, solely the
responsibility of the author.
There is a multiplicity of practices and circumstances that help
explain the European success. We can borrow from their successes with some
adaptations to blend with our institutions and existing practices. Some of
the reasons for their success are as follows
1. Public Attitudes and Public Education
The European public is probably more aware of the hazards from fire
than the American public because of European history. A major part of
almost every city burned down at one time or another in the Middle Ages,
and many in the wars of this century
. People are concerned about pre-
serving their heritage both in terms of public buildings and personal
. They support the fire protection community in stronger fire
prevention measures than in the U
The family environment and roles of parents also contribute to the
difference. The average European child is given more instruction on fire
safety in his or her home and that instruction has stronger parental
authority behind it. There also is more public education on fire hazards
provided through the schools. A large proportion of homes are reached
through schools or direct public education.
The net effect is far more carefulness and concern by the public in
regard to fire. This affects many of the major causes of accidental fires,
such as heating, cooking, smoking, children playing, and juvenile arson.
2. Construction and Code Enforcement
European structures, including homes, are built to last
. The Europeans
want to pass them on to future generations. The public supports stricter
fire and building codes and more rigorous enforcement than in the U.S. In
many European countries, the fire chief and building departments have much
authority for interpreting the codes, and are likely to be backed by the
. A great deal of effort goes into reviewing the plans of every new
structure and every revision to existing structures. This is done in rural
areas as well as in the cities.
3. Insurance
Insurance plays a major role in preserving European structures and
deterring arson
. Insurance may not be provided at all unless building
plans are approved by the fire department and building department
. In some
countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, insurance on a structure is
provided by a government insurance department which itself has review
. Premiums may be raised until buildings are improved to comply
with codes
. Insurance practices also are used to remove some of the moti-
vation for arson for fraud
. In several countries, only partial reimburse-
ment is given for a loss unless the original building is rebuilt on the
same spot.
4. Heating Systems and Chimney Sweeps
The typical home in at least several European countries is visited one
to four times a year by chimney sweeps who not only clean the chimneys, but
in many cases check the safety of the heating systems, including
wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. In Switzerland, the chimney sweeps
also do fire safety inspections. The chimney sweep visits are mandatory in
Switzerland and some other countries. In the U
.S., chimney sweeps are not
entirely taken seriously and are used by a small fraction of homeowners
Yet our number of fires from fireplaces and woodburning stoves continues to
climb sharply, and heating is by far the leading cause of fires in the
. Consumer Products Safety
Some consumer products are regulated more strictly in Europe than in
the U.S. In Germany and Switzerland, for example, electrical or gas-
powered products cannot be sold unless they have been tested and approved
by the government. Woodburning stoves and fireplaces and their
installation are controlled by codes, with enforcement assisted by the
chimney sweep system.
6. Fire Service Training and Prevention
European fire officers often hold technological degrees from univer-
sities. They generally have more training in fire protection engineering
and building technology than their counterparts in the United States and
often have gone to a fire prevention school or course.
As a result, they are better qualified and more oriented toward empha-
sizing prevention, especially in the review of building plans and code
. The majority of officer manhours at the district chief level
or above in at least several countries is spent on prevention-related
work. That is in sharp contrast to the U.S., where prevention is not given
.adequate resources.
7. Firefighter Safety
In the U.S. about 100,000 firefighters are injured each year. That is
more than the number of civilians injured in fires reported to the fire
service. Firefighter injuries comprise a significant part of our fire
. There are proportionately far fewer firefighter injuries in
Among the major reasons for their lower rate of injuries are fewer
fires to fight as a result of emphasizing prevention; a philosophy of not
risking the lives of firefighters to save property; mandatory or strongly
encouraged use of breathing apparatus
; consistent use of protective
clothing; safety officers sent to multiple alarm fires (England)
; attention
to physical fitness and diet; firefighters transported within fire vehicle
cabs and not standing on the rear step; and more attention to safety train-
Selected European Practices
Some of the specific European practices that seemed worthy of consid-
eration for use in the U.S
. are listed below. These and others are dis-
cussed in the report. The text also describes ways in which the fire
brigades are organized and manned, some of the different types of govern-
ment fire protection organizations at the national level, and how non-fire
emergency services are handled.
In parentheses after each idea below is listed at least one country or
city where it is currently being practiced
. Obviously many of the prac-
tices would have to be changed somewhat to be acceptable in the U.S., but
the germ of the idea is there.
Public Education
• Almost all children in nation reached with (Switzerland,
fire safety education in schools in one France)
special effort.
• All homes in nation reached with color
brochure on fire safety sent by mail or
brought by fire service, in one special effort.
Coordinated with TV campaign.
• Nationwide TV campaign on fire safety.
• Integration of fire safety into other
school subjects in secondary schools
• Fire safety information provided as part
of other social services which enter the
home, to reach the elderly and low income
• Court fines for carelessness or negligence
in starting fires
• Repeated TV spots targeted at one specific
problem, such as
smoking in bed
deep fryers ("chip pans").
a National Youth Quiz on Fire Safety.
• National poster contest on fire safety
for school children.
• Fire service home inspections for elderly.
• Annual press conference by fire brigade.
• Fire prevention included in universal
military training
Code Enforcement and Construction
• Nationwide uniform code.
• Majority of senior officer time spent on
plans review and inspections.
• Cne hundred percent complete building
file and inspection records by
address for each building in the city
• Chief can be fined by court if building
has fire and not inspected recently enough.
(England, Sweden)
(Zurich, et al)
• Private companies used to check large
buildings for compliance with codes before
city makes its inspection; builder and
inspection company liable if a fire occurs.
• Short, compact code
; one or two examples
of acceptable practice given, but allows
equivalent ones in judgnent of fire brigade.
• Codes emphasize protecting escape paths and
containment of fire within a compartment for
30-90 minutes; usually achieved.
• Codes require fire safety instruction to
business and institution employees.
• Analysis of annual fire statistics and
review of large fires to determine need
for changing national codes.
• Guides written to clarify codes for a
particular occupancy (e.g., hotels,
apartment buildings) for benefit of
fire inspectors and businesses.
• Doors exist on most rooms, and they are kept
closed at night, reducing potential fire and
• Electrical wiring must be professionally
Rural Protection and Volunteers
a Codes apply throughout a"state" or nation,
including rural areas
• Consolidation of small fire brigades
into county brigades while maintaining
use of volunteers.
• Code enforcement in rural areas by
municipalities or county brigade or state
• -Volunteers trained at National Fire Academy.
• Nobility or local celebrities join volunteer
departments to make them the "in" community
(England, France,
(England, France,
• Dispatch calls made to individual volunteers
or groups of 10 to 100 via console in dis-
patch center
; those responding trigger a light
on the console, so that need for further call-
ups can be determined
• Use of volunteers to supplement profes-
sionals in large cities when professionals
are overextended
• Full payment only if property is rebuilt
on the same spot (deters arson)
• Only partial coverage for losses
owner bears some of risk
• Premiums can be raised if violations found
• Insurance mandatory for structure
provided only by government and only if
considered in adequate compliance with codes
• Salvage Corps, paid for by insurance
companies, assists fire department at
major fires.
Chimney Sweeps
• Chimney sweep visits mandatory 1-4 times
per year.
• Chimney sweeps provide fire safety
inspection in home
• Chimney sweeps provide advice on purchase
and installation of wood-burning stoves and
fireplaces and test them after installation
• Chimney sweeps maintain heating systems.
• Chimney sweeps trained at National
Fire College.
• Chimney sweeps regulated by fire service or
government agency.
(Be rn )
Germany, Sweden)
( Ge rmany ,
Consumen Product Safety
• All electrical and gas-fired appliances (Switzerland,
must be tested by government laboratory
. Germany, Sweden)
• Acceptance of other countries' product (Switzerland for
test to avoid duplication of effort
. Germany and
vice versa)
• Flammability standards for upholstered (England)
Fire Service Training
• Chiefs required to have technological degree
. (Sweden)
• Officer candidates accepted direct from (France)
• Firefighter applicants required to have a (Switzerland,
trade such as carpentry or mechanics to Germany)
enable brigades to do their own maintenance
and construction.
• Special school for officer training in (France)
• All officers required to graduate from (France)
Prevention School
• yational-level training required for all (England, France
officers and chiefs
. Germany, Switzerland)
• Officers required to serve in several (Germany)
cities before becoming large city chief.
• Training honor system: firefighters and (Switzerland)
officers indicate what training they require
and what they can teach; small classes
arranged among them.
Firefighter Safety
• Safety Officer sent to two-alarm and higher (London)
. ZZ
• Erasable roster cards used to keep track (London) ~
of firefighters entering fire building. ~
• Two-way, hands-free radio for each fire- (Stockholm)
fighting team (2-3 men) entering building.
• Mandatory use of breathing apparatus
. (Stockholm)
• Mandatory wearing of complete protective (Germany)
• Breathing apparatus has attachment for sup- (Sweden, Berlin)
porting a second mask for a buddy or victim
• Distress signaling unit on every breathing (England)
• Detailed maintenance history and regular (Switzerland)
maintenance for every breathing tank.
• Chief is criminally liable if safety prac- (Germany)
tices not followed.
• Timed annual test through smoke filled (Germany)
obstacle course with breathing apparatus
to maintain firefighting qualification
• Mobile barometric chamber to assist smoke (France)
inhalation cases
• Annual physicals over 40
; physicals (Sweden,
at several year intervals under 40
. Germany)
• Maximum age set for active firefighting
; (Sweden,
can remain in fire service for other Switzerland)
• All firefighters ride to fires in cabs of (England,Germany
vehicles, not standing on the back step
. Switzerland)
• Speed recorders in all fire (Zurich)
vehicles to identify unwarranted speeding
and protect against law suits
Many of the ideas found in practice in Europe are already being used
by at least some U
.S. cities
. It is hoped that this study will promote
wider use of the good ideas and will stimulate new ones
. If we can reduce
our fire casualties and loss to the current European averages, we will save
40,000 lives and 100,000-200,000 injuries in a decade
. With our smoke
detector, sprinkler, and materials technology we might even be able to do
better than that.
As the discussion that follows makes clear, accidential fires -- both
here and in Europe -- are a multifaceted problem, caused by a variety of
factors and circumstances. Accordingly, an effective fire prevention pro-
gram must involve many elements and a sustained effort over time.
The United States and Canada continue to have the highest fire death
rates in the world, from two to four times that of most European countries
for which comparable data exist (see Figure 1)
. The U.S. also has one of
the highest rates of fires per capita.
This report presents the results of a survey of European fire
protection practices
. Its purpose was to identify the practices or
conditions that contribute most to Europe's relative success, and
particularly to identify practices that the U
. might use to improve its
fire loss picture
. The report hopefully also will serve as a stimulus to
new ideas, and further international exchange of information
The fire loss differences between the U
. and Europe are affected by
differences between our societies in such areas as income distribution,
education, degree of government regulation, family life, and attitudes
toward the law
. They are also affected by history
Many cities in Europe suffered major conflagrations during the last
few centuries
. The notion that cities can burn down is widely under-
stood and part of the European heritage. Walk in London and you see
plaques describing buildings that were destroyed in the fire of 1666
There are major differences between Europe and the U.S
. in public attitudes
and in fire protection practices that stem from these experiences
The differences in our fire loss records are, of course, affected by
social conditions
. They are not, however, just due to some inborn level of
carefulness that Europeans possess and we do not
. You have only to look at
driving records to see that several European countries have hiaher death
rates from traffic accidents per million miles driven than we do
Figure 1
: International Fire Statistic
t e
e -
: Selected lnternational Comparisons of Fire Loss 1979-1980, Jerry
Banks, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia,
September 1982
There are people living in poverty in various places in Europe
. They
have lower education levels than we do
. Yet they do not have the same
serious fire death rate we do
. For instance, in West Berlin, where about
10 percent of the population are Turks and other immigrants, many with low
incomes, the fire death rate is very low
The U.S
. has a major technological edge over Europe in some aspects of
fire protection
. The use of smoke detectors is far greater here
. Detector
use has now spread to over 60 percent of U
.S. households; they are present
in an insignificant number of European households, probably less than 1
percent and surely less than 5 percent according to European fire chiefs
We also have a much wider use of sprinkler systems, and have recently
developed affordable residential sprinkler systems which hold great promise
for the future.
However, we have a long way to go before we get down to the low death
and loss rates experienced by Europe and the rest of the world
Consequently, we might want to consider implementing some of the methods
that seem to be contributing to European success. Because of differences
in our societies, we cannot expect to be able to borrow all of their
practices, at least not on an "as is" basis
. For instance, we can assume
that Americans will not tolerate the level of government intervention
commonly practiced in Europe.
This paper discusses a variety of current practices in European fire
. Virtually all of the practices that will be discussed already
exist in some U.S. communities, but few, if any, are in widespread use or
are stressed to the degree they are in Europe
A study to explore the fire safety of Americans living in Europe or
Europeans in America has never been done
. Neither has a comparative
study of low income populations in different countries been
. Therefore, much has to remain speculative and based on
observation rather than rigorous statistical analysis.
A. Approach
The information in this report is based on firsthand observations and
discussions with a wide variety of fire officers, fire researchers, and
other professionals involved in fire protection from a series of visits to
Europe I made in 1980 and 1982. Some of the countries visited -- England,
Sweden, France -- have fire death rates roughly half of ours, and some of
the countries -- Switzerland and West Germany -- have rates less than one
quarter of ours (and are among the lowest in Europe)
. The capital cities
were visited to obtain information on national government practices,
standards, organizational structure, and the like. Many city fire
departments were visited to investigate local fire prevention, firefighting
operations, equipment, manning, training, and other practices. The list of
organizations visited is given below. Also used were ideas culled from
contacts at the International Building Council (CIB) Conference in
Copenhagen in 1978, the First International Symposium on World Fire Costs
held in Geneva in 1980, the CI8 Conference in Athens in 1980, the
International Fire Technology Conference in Karlsruhe in 1982, and from
discussions with various Pmerican and European fire protection experts.
Unfortunately, I found a troublesome trend developing: several
countries are beginning to see societal and economic trends they believe
will lead to fire problems similar to those in the U.S. The English, for
instance, have a rising divorce rate which seems to be a contributing
factor to a rising juvenile arson rate. The Germans and French are
employing ever larger numbers of low income, Southern Europeans and North
Africans who live in ghettos where there are rising fire rates. The U.S.
still has the worst fire problem, but the gap among nations has been
closing, as was found by Banks.2
See Banks, 1982, in footnote 3.
Organizations Visited
Great Britain
Home Office Fire Inspectorate
Fire Research Station
London Fi re Bri gade
Fire Protection Association
London Salvage Corps X
Direction de la Securite Civile
Paris Fire Brigade
National Fire College
Fire Research and Development
Organization, Bonn
West Berlin Fire Brigade
Hamburg Fire Brigade
Cologne Fire Brigade X
Bonn Fire Brigade X
Karlsruhe Fire Brigade
German Fire Chiefs Association X
Stockholm Fire Brigade
Swedish Fire Research Board (Stockholm) X
Insurance Industry (Skandia) X
Bern Fi re Brigade
Zurich Fire Brigade
Association Internationale pour
1'Etude de 1'Economie de 1'Assurance
B. Timing
While it is always a good time to get new ideas, there appear to be
several trends in the U
.S. that suggest this is a particularly
important time to look for new ways to attack our nation's fire problem
We know that far and away the worst part of America's problem is resi-
dential fires -- they account for about 80 percent of all fire deaths and
half of all loss from structural fires
. However, publicity given to large
fires in hotels, office buildings, jails, etc
., although important risks to
be given serious attention, are focusing the public's attention away from
the major part of the problem
. Another trend that appears to be occurring
is the desire to decrease government regulation, reduce government expen-
ditures, and to shift programs from the federal to local and state levels
Private industry may need to pick up some of the slack, but in the
meantime we need to know which fire protection programs should be saved or
expanded and which ones are less vital
. Most of all, it is clear that we
need to know how we might improve the effectiveness and productivity of
fire prevention programs in a time of scarce resources for public programs
C. Scope
The bulk of this paper presents examples of European practices in fire
. This is not a rigorous study of reasons for international
differences, nor an exhaustive tabulation of all European fire protection
. When we describe an interesting fire protection practice, we
usually give examples and variations found in one or more countries
Similar practices might exist in other countries as well
. Likewise, when
we note that a practice exists in a particular country, it does not
necessarily mean that it exists everywhere in that country
; it may only be
in a few cities
. The intent is to identify good ideas that have been
successfully used somewhere in Europe and to cite some examples to permit
D. Background
There have been few efforts to study the reasons for international
differences. Perhaps the most relevant studies, and the direct forerunners
of this report, are a series of papers by Georgia Institute of Technology
researchers. In 1976, soon after joining the U.S. Fire Administration, I
launched what became a series of studies (1977, 1978, 1980, 1982) by
Georgia Tech to develop more reliable comparisons of international fire
statistics than previously existed, and to complete exploratory analyses to
determine reasons for the apparent differences. Many hypotheses were
raised and some discarded.3 Another series of reports by Tom 'Wilmot of
England has further refined the international fire loss comparisons and
broadened them to include all of the costs of fire.4
The Georgia Tech reports present many hypotheses concerning the causes
of international differences. The reports focus mainly on correlations
between fire data and statistics that are available from the United Nations
and other sources such as technological indices of the numbers of radios,
televisions, and telephones
; divorce rates; and energy consumption.
Rardin, R
. L. and Morris Mitzner, Final Technical Report, Determinants
of International Differences in Report Fire Loss
re iminary
Investigation, June
Rardin, R
. L
. and Morris Mitzner, Report on Fire Data Collection and
Presentation, Determinants of Internationa Di erences in Reported
Fire Loss
: Preliminary Investigation, June 1978
Banks, Jerry and Rardin, R. L
., Selected International Comparisons
of Fire Losses, 1975-78, Determinants o nternationa i erences
in eporte Fire Loss
: evise Edition, December 1980
Banks, Jerry, Selected International Comparisons of Fire Loss 1979-
1980, September 1982.
All of the above reports were supported by the U.S. Fire
Administration, FEMA, and published by the Georgia Institute of
For example, see Wilmot, R. T. D., Euro ean Fire Cost
: The Wasteful
Statistical Gap, (2nd Edition), Association de neve, pri 1979
In this report we concentrate on fire protection practices that the
U.S. should consider borrowing, rather than on societal characteristics
that affect fire incidence indirectly (e.g., poverty and education levels),
though the societal issues are discussed here, too.
5. Caveats
While the general ideas in this paper are probably correct, there may
be errors in details that stem from difficulties in translating languages,
differences in jargon, differences in understanding the underlying
political and managerial concepts, and the problems of relying heavily on
. Several people familiar with fire protection practices in the
countries visited have confirmed that the findings here are generally
consistent with their own knowledge and experience. However, the reader
should be aware of the possible errors. To avoid cumbersome language, we
have not included caveats throughout the report.
Presented in the chapters that follow are lessons learned and general
observations from the countries visited, grouped by major fire protection
. Attitudes and Fire Safety Educatio
Europeans seem to have a higher awareness of the fire problem and
the need to practice fire safety than do people in the U
. Much of this
awareness stems from their history and culture, but it has been signifi-
cantly reinforced by public fire education programs that are applied on a
wider scale than in the U.S
. The public education programs give practical
information as well as raising awareness levels
. Before considering the
approaches to public education, it is important to obtain a sense of public
attitudes about fire in Europe
1. Heritag
The Europeans value their heritage enormously, especially in the pres-
ervation of historic buildings
. A Swiss chief said that they want to pass
their homes and tneir city to future generations
. Their personal posses-
sions are also cherished, and they want to enjoy and preserve them, too
French government officials said that the French tend to be very attached
to their homes and are very careful with them
. Owners usually want to pass
their property on to their children
There is high awareness of the losses due to past fires
. The Great
Fire of London in 1666 has a parallel in almost every city in Europe
Major parts of most medieval cities burned down more than once
. Bern, for
example, burned down twice, and its citizens are well aware of that his-
. Almost all German cities burned down at some time in the Middle
Ages; the German autocrats reacted strongly to that experience and empha-
sized the importance of fire safety
. The world wars in this century caused
additional waves of fires, so that millions of today's parents an
grandparents have had the first-hand experience of seeing cities burning
(Hamburg, Berlin, London) or threatened ("Is Paris Burning?")
Many European cities have ordinances prohibiting the changing of
building facades without special permission, and it is often hard to
. When fires occur, there are often pressures, if not requirements,
to restore the structures. In Switzerland, for example, when a building
fire occurs the majority of the dollar loss usually is not paid by the
insurance company unless the building is rebuilt at least as good as it was
on the same spot.
The combination of heritage and history create a keen awareness that
fire safety has to be taken seriously, and that it is necessary to do what
one can to prevent the losses of the past from happening again
It may be possible to translate this concern to the U.S. A fire pre-
vention campaign to "protect your heritage" has been tried in the U.S. --
for American Indians
. It was a highly innovative effort undertaken in the
mid-1970's by the National Fire Protection Association in cooperation with
Indian tribes and the Department of the Interior, but the concept has not
been promoted as much as it might be for other groups.
2. Family
The European fire brigades feel that it is not they who have the prime
responsibility for passing on fire safety education, it is parents. The
Central Europeans in particular felt that family education and discipline
were the key to seeing that children respect fire and understand not to
play with matches or experiment with fire by themselves. A Swiss fire
chief suggested that, since children are naturally curious about fire, it
is up to the parents to see that that curiosity could be explored under
. Taking children to outings where they could participate in
the building of a campfire, for example, was one way to do this. Children
observing how parents used stoves and fireplaces, were careful with smoking
materials, had professionals do electric work, etc
., also contributed to
their fire safety education.
Another Swiss chief observed that in Europe there is more teaching of
safety to children in the home and in general more respect for parental
authority than in the U
. A German economist with the International
Monetary Fund told me that he was concerned whenever American children
played in his house in the U.S
. because he had observed their relative
nonchalance toward matches and fires and their lower respect for parental
Parental supervision of children to stop them from committing mali-
cious acts of vandalism was also considered important
. The British have
been seeing an increasing amount of juvenile vandalism as their divorce
rate and number of single-headed households have increased
. There is a
triple effect of broken homes
: increased emotional problems, less super-
vision of children, and lower household income
. Population Characteristics
Research in the U
. has found that certain socioeconomic character-
istics, such as household income and the number of single-headed households
with children, are highly correlated with fires and fire deaths
Overall, Switzerland's excellent fire record is undoubtedly due in
part to the characteristics of its population
. Education levels are high
There is very little poverty
. There are virtually no ghettos or disadvan-
taged groups
. Likewise, Sweden, compared to the U
., has less variation
in education between population groups, less poverty, a more homogeneous
society, and very few immigrants, which reduces anti-social and uninformed
However, Switzerland has a variety of cultures and separate languages
within its borders
. Some fire chiefs in Switzerland observed that code
enforcement, requirements for chimney sweeps, and even children's
John R. Hall, Jr
., and Michael Karter, Fire Rates vs
. Community
Characteristics, Supplemental
Urban Institute, April 1976
discipline were stricter in the German-speaking areas than in the French
and Italian.
A German fire chief observed that in Germany people who die in fires
typically are "single-livers" or "asocial
." The "single-livers" include
the elderly and those who live alone and drink
. The "asocial" include the
poor, those with "less ordered" lives, those who leave children unattended.
If the U.S. has a greater proportion of people in the population with these
characteristics it may explain one aspect contributing to the U.S. problem,
he suggested.
In France, one low income group is North African immigrants. Many of
these immigrants are not used to modern cooking and heating equipment.
They tend to have proportionally more fires than the rest of the popula-
tion. The same may be true for Turks and other Southern Europeans in
; however, a German chief said these groups try to practice fire
safety and are not experiencing a major problem.
In England, there is the belief that social problems, including fire,
are more frequent among people who live in situations of high density per
room and, at the other extreme, the elderly living alone
. Use of kerosene
heaters and smoking in bed were thought to be more prevalent among these
All over Europe, youths are increasingly involved in drugs, social
protest, and more independence
. One result is an increase in arson associ-
ated with public disturbances, protests, and revenge in countries such as
England and Switerland.
Larger percentages of the population in Europe live in apartments than
is the case in the U.S., where single family dwellings house the major-
ity. European apartment houses tend to be more fire resistant and more
frequently inspected
. They also have professionally maintained heating and
other systems. That shifts the fire cause profiles as well as the fire
Overall, it is somewhat puzzling why the poverty and education levels
in Europe, which are worse in many places than in the U
.S., do not yield
higher fire death rates
. We must turn to other aspects of fire protection
for some clues.
. Attitudes Toward Fire Carelessness
Attitudes toward having a fire differ between Europe and the U.S.
Perhaps the extreme are the Swiss, who like to be thought of as "reliable."
Having a fire is, by definition, not being reliable. It may not be viewed
as a natural, faultless occurrence or an accident. Being careful is a
Swiss trait, and it carries over into fire safety. There is definite
social pressure to be fire safe.
In Switzerland, if you have a fire that is reported either to the fire
department or to an insurance company, it is usually investigated whatever
the cause
. A fire caused by carelessness or negligence may be a civil
offense and may result in a court fine equivalent to $50. The concept is
similar to receiving a traffic ticket if you cause an auto accident in the
U.S. Being convicted of causing a fire through carelessness does not af-
fect your ability to claim your insurance, and the fine is usually small
compared to the dollar loss from the fire. The conviction and fine serve
mainly as a "reminder that society frowns an your behavior," according to
one Swiss chief.
In Germany, if a building is damaged by fire, the local prosecutor
must determine the cause. Civil penalties may be given for carelessness or
negligence, as in Switzerland.
In Sweden, too, fines may be given for fires due to carelessness,
e.g., smoking in bed or code violations such as having a wood-burning stove
too close to a wall
. There are few comparable practices in the U.S. at
Besides social stigma and court fines for fire carelessness speci-
fically, there are strong public attitudes in Europe regarding health and
law-abiding behavior
. A Stockholm fire chief stated that in Sweden "people
behave better, they are health and safety conscious in general, and they
are more careful of risk to a neighbor's property
." They also tolerate a
higher degree of government involvement to obtain safety than do Americans
T'ne Germans consider themselves very law abiding
: "People wouldn't
think of not obeying,the rules
." An English fire officer observed that the
English also tend to "go along with authority
." This makes code enforce-
ment and obedience of fire safety rules easier to achieve
Public mores related to smoking also influence fire safety. A German
fire brigade officer expressed the opinion that there is less "careless"
smoking and drinking there than in the U
.S. He felt it was unusual for
someone to smoke in bed. Safety consciousness is ingrained enough to be a
strong force even when someone is intoxicated, they claim
The French also do not usually smoke in bed
. "A Frenchman uses his
bed for other things," they said, only partly in jest. "Wives don't like
husbands to smoke in bed." While these views are not the whole story, they
have proportionately much fewer smoking-related fire deaths than in the
In Stockholm, a chief felt that most people who start fires in bed
wake up
; it is mostly the "drinking ones" who cause the problem.
Careless smoking by someone intoxicated is the leading cause of fire
deaths in Britain. The elderly smoking in bed was another part of the
problem. However, British Fire Protection Association officials said that
the number of smoking-related fire deaths has been declining over the last
20 years, even though the tonnage of tobacco consumed was roughly constant.
They also found that tobacco usage and smoking-related fires were not
highly correlated
. They thought that the difference in carefulness between
Britain and the U
.S. was behind the difference in fire death rates.
5. War Experience --
Many Europeans over 45 have practical experience in reacting to fires
and disasters from first-hand war experience. Many also had some form of
training in fighting small fires. In addition to making them fire con-
scious, this helps keep them "cool" in emergencies. Their knowledge and
attitudes are passed on in part to the younger generation by example and
Another aspect of the war experience was the loss of personal prop-
. A
erman senior fire brigade officer noted that his and many other
families had lost everything twice in this century, and they were very
conscious of preserving their hard-won possessions and their surviving
family heirlooms.
6. Public Fire Education
The history and public attitudes discussed above have helped increase
the receptiveness of the European public to fire education
. The Europeans
have undertaken public fire education on a broader scale than we have in
the U.S
. There are some U.S. cities that have done almost everything we
observed in Europe in public education at one time or another. But the
European public education programs appear to reach a much greater percent-
age of their national population than do the U.S. programs, They are also
targeted better. In Britain, fire prevention education is aimed mainly at
premises not adequately covered by legislation: the 'nome, categories of
buildings with poor life loss records, and establishments with new types of
equipment, processes or problems.
Every household in Britain was sent an illustrated, multi-color bro-
chure on fire safety in the home about four years ago.6 The brochures were
produced by the Home Office and were distributed primarily through the
mails, although some were distributed door to door by some brigades
. The
brochure addressed the leading causes of fire and how to escape
. Its dis-
tribution coincided with a television fire prevention campaign and a re-
lated television film, "The 1000th Chance." Further distribution of the
booklet has been made by fire brigades and others as part of other cam-
. The national scale of the distribution and the coordination with
nationwide TV has never been tried in the U.S. for fire safety, to our
The latest edition of the brochure is Danger from Fire
: How to
Protect Your Home. Prepared for the Home Office and Scottish Home
an ea t epartment by the Central Office of Information, 1980,
reprinted in 1982, England.
One successful, narrowly focused British television campaign was tar-
geted against fires in "chip pans," the electrical appliances used to make
French fries, the chips part of fish 'n chips. The campaign taught how to
prevent and how to extinguish such fires. It was aired during prime
time. The results were a dramatic 30 percent decrease in the incidence of
reported chip pan fires by the end of the campaign and a 40 percent de-
crease for the period immediately following the campaign
. The effects wore
off sharply after that and were greatly diminished at the end of six
Different versions of the television campaign were tried in a few
areas. They found that a low intensity (infrequent repetitions) TV cam-
paign gave about the same results as one of double the intensity. When
fire brigades supplemented the TV spots with house- to- house visits, there
was, surprisingly, no significant improvement. Also, they found that the
extinguishment part of the message was remembered longer than the preven-
tion message. The cost of the campaign was about the same as the losses
averted, though it also prevented many injuries
The major British public fire education effort has been in the
. They feel that the emphasis in public fire education should be on
"tomorrow's adults
." Their premise is that in "early adulthood" the youths
are past the game stage and are more receptive to concentrated information
The older children, they believe, are more likely to accurately pass on the
safety information at home than younger children.
A new British fire prevention education program has therefore been
started in the secondary schools
. The idea is to include prevention infor-
mation as part of the regular curriculum and have students think through
fire problems
. To illustrate the problems of electrical appliance fires,
for example, high school physics students would design an electric blanket,
explore how it might be damaged and short out, then consider how to build
in circuit breakers or heat sensors
. (Electric blankets are one of the
products that have been of particular concern to the British brigades
The State of New York and the Foundation for Fire Safety have been working
on a conceptually similar secondary school program for the U
.S. The
concept is also similar to that behind the National Fire Protection
Association's "Learn Not To Burn" program used in the U
.S., but the British
focus more on the higher grades and more on a few critical fire hazards
Another public education approach has been the British Fire Protection
Association's National Youth Quiz on fire safety for youths under 16
Children all over the country prepare for and take the tests
. The fire
brigades distribute literature for preparing for the quiz
. Winners are
selected at local and national levels, and the awards are given publicity
in the media.
For elementary schools, the British believe in stressing general
awareness of the dangers of fire
. They feel that messages aimed at young
children have to be shaped so that the kids identify with the characters in
the message and feel that the hazards pertain to themselves and not just
." They are concerned about using cartoons in fire safety messages
for fear that the children may not take the messages seriously
. They
therefore try to give the information directly, using realistic drawings or
actual pictures of human figures.7
To improve the cost-effectiveness of prevention education programs,
the British are exploring the idea of using other existing social programs
as vehicles for getting messages to special groups, such as English classes
for new immigrants like the Vietnamese, or Social Services visits to the
el derly.
If Social Services field staff are given some basic fire prevention
education, they can pass it on along with the other information they pro-
vide during visits to large numbers of elderly and the poor at home
. All
people over 65 on pension receive regular visits from Social Services
One brigade -- in Leicestershire -- has experimented with offering
home inspections for the elderly
. The brigade gets addresses of the
s excellent and highly
In the U.S., the Hartford Insurance Company
successful Junior Fire Marshall program has recently been redesianed
with much thought given to these same issues.
elderly from the Social Services Department, writes to the elderly to make
appointments, and gives them both a safety inspection and a safety lesson
during the visit. No publicity is given to this program to prevent confi-
dence men or others from gaining entry to the homes of the elderly under
this guise, they said, but they were recommending that the program be im-
plemented all over the country
The British also emphasize fire safety education for the staffs of
businesses and institutions. Such staff education and written practices on
how to handle emergencies are required by their national Fire Precaution
Act and other code legislation. They stress getting the staff and other
occupants out of a building quickly
. They also stress warning others.
They want people to rely on themselves to get out, and not the hotel staff
or business management. They tell people to get out first, not stop to
notify the desk or the fire department, and to warn others on the way out.
Public education practices in Germany are somewhat similar to those in
Britain in that they are concentrated on children. Schools typically in-
clude training in fire theory and practical fire prevention and extinguish-
ment at about ages 8-9. The training varies city by city. In Hamburg, for
example, about 10 hours are given in the third grade and again in the sev-
enth. The fire service helps train the teachers rather than teaching the
children directly.
There is some use of the commercial media for public fire safety mes-
sages in Germany. One unusual practice in Hamburg is to publicize the fire
problem at an annual press conference
. While this is commonly done by
police in the U.S. regarding changes in the crime problem, it is highly
unusual for fire.
In Sweden, there is no national publicity drive on any one particular
fire prevention theme at present, though they have occasionally had such
drives in the past. One example was a campaign against welding fires, and
it was considered successful
Swedish schools provide about two hours of fire prevention theory to
children 7-8 years of age and two hours of practical education on the use
of fire extinguishers, how to extinguish clothing fires, etc
., for 14-15
year olds
. In the earlier grades children are brought to fire departments
to help form attitudes about the role of the fire service
. Fire education
is also now included as part of chemistry, physics, and other subjects
Some fire chiefs think this dilutes the fire education lessons too much to
have them stick and that it is better to have someone come in from the
outside to give a concentrated fire lesson, rather than to have it spread
out as part of many subjects
. Both approaches can be found in different
countries, as was illustrated above
There is "universal" military training in Sweden for young adults
. As
part of this, there are a few hours of practical fire prevention and extin-
. Though in reality the training is not "universal" -- there are
many who are excepted -- many are reached through this program
In France, there was a concentrated effort ten years ago to reach all
children in the country with fire safety information. All schools were
requested to hold classes in prevention. Meetings were organized between
school directors and local fire brigades
. Firefighters all over the coun-
try visited schools with their fire engines
. Classroom fire prevention
instruction was given directly or worked into the curriculum in subjects
such as chemistry and history. The French Civil Security Directorate esti-
mates that over three-quarters of school-age children under 12 were reached
in this program -- a unique, large scale effort
Since then, children in France are supposed to get something on fire
prevention each year, but there has not been close tracking to make this
. Nevertheless, the one big nationwide thrust may have given vital
safety information to an entire generation
In Bern, Switzerland, the fire brigade feels that you cannot really be
effective in public education for children under 12 years old. Before
that, they feel, kids like fire
. While the fire brigade has some activ-
ities for the lower grades, such as classes visiting fire stations, they
save their main effort for secondary school students
. Home fire safety is
incorporated as part of the mandatory four weeks of home economics that
girls are required to take in Bern beyond the high school curriculum.
However, the Swiss count a great deal on having children learn safety les-
sons at home.
The Swiss Fire Insurance Association has an innovative "Parents, Pay
Attention" program in which school children are asked to make drawings of
the most common causes of fire
. The best original drawings are put to-
gether into a calendar that is then distributed by insurance companies
. On
the back of each month's illustration, there are lists of right and wrong
In rural areas, the Swiss have distributed posters targeted at the
dangers of barn fires
Radio and television spots have been used to saturate the nation with
a message
. For example, a "don't smoke in bed" seven-second message was
run 140 times in one year
The Bern fire chief felt that public education had to take human hab-
its and resistance to messages into account
. Children can be taught fire
safety, but adults should realize that they have a natural curiosity about
. Children should be given the opportunity to assist in making fires
while on picnics or other appropriate occasions under parental control
The lessons of the usefulness of fire could be combined with the lessons on
the dangers.
All told, there are many cultural forces that motivate Europeans to
practice fire safe behavior, and they are given a substantial amount of
fire safety education to reinforce it
. That is their first line of defense
against fire
. But they depend more on codes, consumer product regulations,
chimney sweeps, and personal character than on public education
. They put
an especially heavy emphasis on built-in protection.
B. Codes and Construction
European buildings tend to have more fire safety built into them than
comparable U.S. buildings have
. European codes are stronger, and they are
much more rigorously enforced than is true in most U.S. cities. It is
certainly not our lack of technolocgy or know-how, but rather a lack of
will, training, and manpower to enforce codes that makes this so
. In addi-
tion, Europeans tend to build structures of concrete, steel and stone, to
last hundreds of years, which builds fire safety in beyond that required in
The prime concept of European codes is to construct buildings that
will keep fires contained within a"unit," such as an apartment, until the
fire department arrives, and to protect escape paths
. They take the fire
ratings of building walls, floors, ceilings, and doors very seriously and
plan their fire brigade response time goals based on them
. Codes and Code Enforcement
In Germany, there are strict rules not only for the construction of
industrial and public buildings, but even for some aspects of private
. German fire protection officials rely on German "character" not to
break rules since that is the "right way to live
." Code compliance is
probably the area where the U
. differs most from Germany, and perhaps
other European countries as well
. The code carries weight in the mind of
the public, and building owners try to comply with it
Plans for new buildings or for changes to existing buildings are re-
viewed by German fire brigade officers
. The reviews are a major role of
the officers in a German fire brigade
. They participate essentially as
consulting engineers
. The fire brigades can even require building owners
to install safety features in excess of code for "special problems
." In
some cities, such as Karlsruhe, for instance, the fire brigade makes its
recommendations to the city administration or building department, which in
turn advises building owners on changes that are necessary
German local governments have strong discretionary authority for the
life safety aspects of fire and building codes
. There is a national mini-
mum code which local governments can exceed
. The local government has the
authority to decide what constitutes safety where the code is not specific,
though the judgments can be challenged in the courts
. Here are some exam-
ples of control over building fire safety in German codes
• All electrical wiring in all buildings in Germany must be in-
stalled by professional electricians. The electricians go by the
book: "After three and one half years of listening to the boss
tell you to go by the book, you do it." When asked how the
standards were enforced, one respondent said: "They do not have
to be enforced. No one would dare not to follow them." There is
virtually no "do-it-yourself" wiring.
• All heating systems, including woodburning stoves and oil and gas
furnaces, have strict rules about their installation. The plans
must be approved before installation, and the systems are tested
after installation by chimney sweeps.
• Staircases in homes for two or more families must exit outside
and be constructed of stone or other inflammable materials.
Staircases for single family dwellings over two stories are also
• "Public" buildings such as hotels, hospitals, and apartment
buildings are supposed to be built so that a person is "safe" in
his/her room from fires started outside the room for at least 30
minutes, by which time the fire brigade should have arrived and
started rescues
In Germany, after buildings are approved and constructed, inspections
are infrequent. Old buildings may, however, be required to be retrofitted
with smoke barriers, better wall materials, enclosed stairways, and smoke
ventilation to conform to modern codes.
In Switzerland, codes are enforced by both the local fire brigade and
the canton (state) insurance department
. As in Germany, they have much
discretion in mandating fire safety.
The Swiss building and fire codes have been kept simple and are con-
tained in a small book. Typically the code gives one or two examples of
acceptable approaches to a building feature, but it also permits "something
equivalent." The fire brigade determines what is equivalent. Their judg-
ments can be fought in the courts but that is seldom done
. Swiss codes are
particularly concerned with protecting "the way out" of a building
; they do
not allow, for instance, plastics or carpets in exitways
Typically, the Swiss require walls to be fire-rated to last 90 minutes
and doors 30 minutes.
You cannot use materials in construction that have
not been tested and approved, unless you can satisfy your local fire au-
thorities on the equivalency of the protection.
In Bern, the review process typically starts when plans for a new
building are submitted to the local building department for approval
. They
pass the plans to both the state insurance department and the fire
. Often the architect may have discussed the plans with the fire
brigade before they are formally submitted for review
. The insurance de-
partment can require higher premiums to be paid until any safety problems
are fixed
In some cantons, the insurance and fire departments reach a consensus
and give the building owner one joint message on any changes needed
. In
Zurich, the fire brigade does most of the reviews on behalf of the insur-
ance department
. In other cantons, the two reviews are independent and may
; the differences must be worked out and both organizations must
approve the plans before construction can begin
. For small buildings and
single family dwellings, the insurance department alone does the review
In addition, all construction charges to existing buildings -- even
small changes -- must be reviewed by the city building department
. They
may request the fire department to review the proposed changes as well
The buildings are inspected again after construction to ensure compliance
with the approved plans
In the years after construction, inspections are relatively infre-
. The Bern fire department does not have the manpower to do many
annual inspections
. They try to use injured officers, who need a change of
career, to supplement their inspection force
. They pick a major hazard
theme for the year, inspecting schools one year, shopping centers another,
hospitals a third, and so on
. The line companies do not go on inspec-
. The total inspections are much less than in a typical U
. city --
but safety has been built in at the time of construction and is maintained
by a law-abiding public
In Stockholm, as in Switzerland, one of the main tasks of fire
officers is reviewing plans for new buildings and alterations
. A staff of
12 engineers plus the deputy chief work on this task full time
All "public" properties such as theaters, hospitals, and hotels are
inspected once per year
. Other properties are inspected once every two or
four years, depending on their risk classification -- which is about the
frequency in practice, though not in theory, in the U
. in a city with a
good program.
The inspection requirement is taken very seriously in Sweden
. A few
years ago, the fire chief of a major Swedish city was personally fined
because the department was not adequately inspecting properties
. This was
detected after a school fire, when a check of records revealed that the
school had not been inspected for a long time
. The fining made a profound
impression on fire chiefs throughout the country
3uilding codes concerning contents and linings are stricter in Sweden
than under the U.S
. regulations
. These aspects of codes are considered
very important
. Linings, which include wall, floor or ceiling surface
materials and paneling, as well as the underlying structure, are regulated
for the surfaces between units ("cells") in multi-family dwellings, as well
as in offices and other public buildings
. Flammable linings such as wood
paneling are outlawed in these places
. (In Stockholm, about 60 to 70 per-
cent of the population lives in apartments, so the regulations affect most
homes, which is where the majority of fire deaths occur.)
There are several code requirements for the structure of single family
homes in Sweden
; for instance, a three-story wood frame house must have a
steel fire escape on the outside. Electrical systems must be installed by
an authorized electrician; do-it-youself wiring is not allowed
. Chimneys
and stoves are also regulated
Sweden used to have lots of chimney fires when heating was primarily
with wood. Heating fires were such a problem that each fire station had a
special vehicle just for fighting chimney fires
. Now Stockholm has only a
few such fires each year
. Part of the reduction is due to the switch to
oil heat
. Another is due to the strengthening of code requirements for the
distance between the chimney and wood structural elements
. Chimneys for
woodburning stoves must be made of stone, brick or high quality pipe that
is well insulated and well spaced from surrounding wood
. The regulations
focus on the relationship of the chimney to the surrounding materials
They are strictly enforced, for homes as well as businesses, by the manda-
tory chimney sweep system (discussed in Section D)
. Other than in these
areas, your home is your castle in Sweden as in the U
.S. You are free to
have wood paneling and any contents
France has less than half the fire death rate of the United States
The French feel one of the main reasons is the difference in type of con-
struction and code enforcement
. The Prevention Branch of the Civil
Security Directorate in France establishes the codes that are used nation-
ally. Codes are enforced locally
. For large new buildings, the builder
pays a private company to inspect for code compliance
. This inspection is
required in order to receive a license to open
. If there is a fire due to
a code violation, both the builder and the inspection company are held
. Inspections of a large, new building are also made by the local
Public Safety Commission both during and after construction, in Paris, the
inspection team would typically include a fire officer, a police officer, a
representative of the mayor's office and an architect
. After the building
is approved, it may be inspected as often as once every three months
Smaller buildings not used for public assembly might be inspected once or
twice a year.
In Great Britain, too, the fire service emphasizes the review of plans
for "new construction
." Single family dwellings and even minor changes
such as adding a room or garage to a house or renovating a loft are in-
cluded. The national building regulations apply everywhere in England and
Wales, except in London which has its own codes.
The local fire service and building authority consult on the approval
of proposed plans. The local building authority has the final say
. They
can pull down a house if construction has proceeded without their prior
approval of the plan -- and it has been done
. According to the Home Office
Inspectorate of Fire Services, there is close to 100 percent compliance
with codes.
A number of pieces of legislation dealing with fire protection have
been consolidated into a single Fire Precautions Act
. It requires that a
"fire certificate" be obtained in order to use a building for any of a
series of "designated uses
." If a fire certificate for a building is de-
nied or cancelled by the fire brigade, the occupant is operating illegally
and can be shut down. The fire brigade officers can exercise considerable
discretion in deciding on whether a given building gives adequate protec-
tion. In addition to the designated building uses covered in the Fire
Precautions Act others are covered by other national legislation. (There
are no comparable federally-mandated building codes in the U
.S.. There are
four different model codes recommended for use nationally.)
Tne Fire Precautions Act and other legislation emphasize several key
points of fire safety:
• Means of escape
• Instruction to the occupant's staff on fire prevention and the
proper actions to take in a fire
• Fire alarms to alert occupants
• Firefighting equipment (e.g. sprinklers and standpipes to fight
fires in the incipient stage)
• Maintenance and testing of the above equipment.
Most of these items are found in some, though not all, local codes in the
U.S., except that the codes rarely require prevention instructions to
. That has only recently been emphasized in Occupational Safety and
Health Administration regulations.
If any of the above elements are missing in plans or practice, the
fire brigade describes what is needed. The occupant is given a schedule
for compliance. He/she may appeal the instructions or the time schedule to
the courts.
A series of guides has been developed in Britain to assist both fire
officers and businesses and institutions in understanding the Fire Precau-
tions Act and other fire protection legislation. Though the British feel
that the guides should be further improved with more detail, greater read-
ability, and more illustrations, they are an admirable attempt to present
clear information to the enforcers and those who must comply
In Britain, line fire brigade companies conduct annual inspections to
check for compliance with fire codes
. They inspect commercial premises
such as hotels, shops, and offices
. Apartment buildings are not routinely
inspected except for testing of their standpipes
There is no inspection of one to two family homes
. However, the fire
and building departments review plans for new and remodeled homes
. The
general philosophy for private homes is, "if you burn yourself up, that's
your business, but you must not endanger your neighbor
." Wood shingle
roofs are not allowed
. Class 4 materials (e
., fiberboard) are not per-
mitted for ceilings or walls, and Class 3 materials can be used for ceil-
ings and walls only in small rooms or for limited areas of large rooms
In general, the courts will back up the British fire brigades (and
those in most other countries we visited)
. Knowing this, the fire brigades
are perceived as having adequate authority, and there is less need to go to
. The lowest court can give up to a 1,000 pound fine, and can decide
to send a case to a higher court
. The higher court can increase the fine
and give up to a two-year jail sentence.
The British have what are probably the best national fire statistics
in Europe
. The statistics are tracked to see how the nature of the fire
problem changes and, based on this information, codes are revised to remove
new hazards
. Also, the existing codes are examined in light of the circum-
stances of any large fires that occur
. Rural Code Enforcement
In the U.S
., the average rural fire death rate is about 50 percent
higher than the average death rate in the largest cities, and almost 100
percent higher than the national average
. One of the likely reasons is the
absence of codes and adequate code enforcement in rural areas
In Europe, rural areas generally do practice an adequate amount of
code enforcement -- perhaps not as much as in the cities, but they are not
far behind them either
. In both England and France, codes apply nationally
to rural areas as well as cities
. In England, rural fire protection has
been consolidated under county-wide brigades, which handle inspections in
rural areas and cities.
In France, the rural code enforcement is the responsibility of the
mayor of the community
. A"delegation" from the local government reviews
building plans and can inspect the building any time after it is con-
. But there are no routine periodic inspections -- the main effort
is at the time of construction or when a building is renovated
In Switzerland, the same codes apply throughout a canton, in the rural
areas as well as the cities
. Building plans are reviewed for code compli-
ance by the canton-level "fire police" who are assigned to each district
within the canton. Subsequent ihspections of the building are made jointly
by a representative of the local municipality and the district authorities.
Even changes to a chalet high in the Alps are likely to be inspected
Switzerland also makes use of volunteer code enforcement experts on occa-
. If a small community has a question regarding the safety of a com-
plex structure, it may seek the help of a fire engineering consultant
Often these consultants volunteer their time
. Construction Practices
Homes are built to last for generations in Europe and are generally
well maintained
. Wood is expensive and used much less than in the U
.S. As
a result, homes are expensive, which causes most people to live in apart-
. A Swiss fire protection consultant remarked that "you in the U
buy a house like we buy a suit
." Many people in the U.S
. change houses
several times, whereas in Europe families build "for eternity" (Switzer-
land) or for "our chiTdren" (Germany)
. It is common to see a crane working
at the construction site of a European house because of the concrete,
steel, stone, and other heavy materials used
. After the city of Bern
burned down several hundred years ago, it was rebuilt mainly in stone
buildings with nonflammable roofs, to avoid a similar occurrence. The "tra-
ditional" Swiss chalet has a nonflammable tile roof; wooden roofs are not
. Homes in 6ermany rarely have wood frame construction, though some
older buildings have it.
Private homes in Britain are more compartmentalized than those in the
United States. This helps limit the spread of both smoke and fire. Open-
plan room layouts are unusual. There is usually a door on every room in a
British house. They are usually kept shut and that includes doors to liv-
ing rooms and kitchens, not just bedroom doors. The same prevalence of
doors exists in Switzerland
. This may slightly increase the risk within
the rooms with closed doors if a fire starts within them, but in general it
significantly decreases the chances for multiple casualties and large
. One British fire inspector reported that there are cases where a
fire from an accidentally dropped cigarette filled a living room with smoke
but did not affect a houseful of sleeping people who were protected from
the smoke by their doors.
Homes in Britain usually have exteriors constructed out of brick or
other nonflammable materials
. They typically have tile or slate roofs.
Interior walls are often plaster, with ceilings of plasterboard. "Breeze"
(cinder block) that has been plastered over is also common for interior
construction. In addition, all buildings are required to have a window
which can be opened in every room
. This assists in escapes, rescues, and
getting air in case of a fire.
Construction of apartment houses in Britain emphasizes built-in fire
protection as well. Escape routes are planned so that occupants can avoid
having to go past many other flats to escape, because they may have fire or
smoke emanating from them. Another design feature is to avoid placing
kitchens near the entrance door, since many fires originate in kitchens.
The prime British fire research organization, the Fire Research Sta-
tion at Borehamwood, has been switching emphasis in its research program
away from structure and towards contents, which may reflect a growing con-
sciousness of a need to concentrate on consumer product-related fire prob-
lems rather than on construction features of the relatively "safe" British
. Even in the U
., most fires start in contents and spread
through contents and linings when they kill
. However, construction does
affect the ability to escape, the spread of smoke, and the totality of the
While construction practices assist in reducing fire losses in most
European countries, Scandinavia has a great deal of construction with wood,
yet also has lower casualty rates than in the U.S.
4. Detectors and Sprinklers
The U.S. is considerably ahead of Europe in the use of smoke detectors
and sprinklers.
Detectors are a relatively new factor in the U.S. fire protection, but
there is little doubt that they are having significant effect in reducing
fire deaths. Europeans, because they have relatively few fire deaths,
don't think they need detectors and, in general, do not consider them cost-
effective for residences
. For example, in Britain, smoke detectors have
not been widely used, nor are they being aggressively pushed there by the
fire service. Perhaps as few as 1 percent of British homes had them in
1980, compared to 64 percent of U.S. homes.
In France and Germany, detectors are as little used as in Britain.
The Germans do not consider detectors a factor in safety at present. Some
large companies have tried advertising detectors heavily, but with little
. German research has found that people do not think of the smoke
associated with fires as dangerous -- only the flames -- therefore they are
not motivated to buy a"smoke" detector. Also, detectors are still rather
expensive, the equivalent of $50-100. In general, the German fire depart-
ments are not pushing detectors, except for particularly dangerous occupan-
cies such as old hotels.
In Switzerland, too, there are few detectors in homes today. The
death rate is already so low that people feel they do not need them
. Z\Z
In Sweden, where the fire death rate, though low compared to the U.S., p
is over twice that of Switzerland, fire brigades now are encouraging the tZ
purchase of smoke detectors
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Sprinklers are used in many modern European shopping centers and other
large buildings, but there is somewhat lower enthusiasm for them in Europe
than in the U.S.
The British are concerned about the interaction between the sprinkler-
ing water and smoke control. Experiments there and in the U.S. have found
that sprinklers do stir up smoke and reduce visibility -- even though they
still constribute significantly to extinguishing fires and keeping the
building environment survivable.
In Switzerland, the Bern fire department is also not too enthusiastic
about sprinklers, and does not aggressively encourage them
. They, too, are
concerned about the loss of visibility when sprinklers are activated. They
prefer to encourage automatic remote alarm systems wired to the fire de-
partment dispatch center, and count on a fast fire brigade response rather
than sprinklers. One special place where sprinklers are important, they
feel, is in underground parking garages where it is difficult to fight
fires. They have changed their code to require full sprinklering for park-
ing areas more than two stories underground
All in all, it is not the use of automatic detection or suppression
equipment that contributes to the European success in fire protection rela-
tive to that of the U.S.
. Building Records
An important tool in code enforcement is a complete file of the build-
ings in the community. Many of the European cities visited in this project
maintained a complete, manual file system of every building and occupancy
within each building, with files stored by street address. The files are
created when a building is first constructed and updated when there is a
renovation, inspection, or fire. Records usually are kept on every build-
ing, including single family dwellings
. Many U.S. cities have only par-
tially complete files, with uncertainty about the degree of coverage, and
no coverage at all in most communities for single family dwellings.
In Zurich, the building files not only include the type of occupancy
on each floor of each building, but also the number of heating systems,
ovens, ranges, water heaters, dryers, washers, flammable liquid storage,
chimneys, and garages for each occupancy and floor
. It is also specified
for each appliance and heating system whether it uses electricity, gas,
oil, or another fuel
. Also recorded are the existence of smoke detec-
tors, standpipes, sprinklers and other built-in fire protection equip-
. All of this information is recorded to make sure that these items
are examined upon construction or changes in construction and for inspec-
tions when appropriate
. The information sometimes also is used to assist
fire investigations; knowing the equipment and appliances that were there
before a fire can help guide the determination of cause and reasons for
fire spread
. The file also records each inspection and any problems found
C. Insurance and Arson
In Europe, the requirements for obtaining insurance and for collecting
on a loss reinforce fire safety and deter arson. Insurance for structures
often is provided by the government, or is closely coordinated with the
1. General Insurance Practices
In Switzerland, insurance is required on all structures. It is pro-
vided by the canton but paid for by the owner, both for homes and busi-
nesses. A building owner must carry enough insurance to rebuild
. Thus,
the amount of insurance and its cost may go up even if the value of the
building goes down. The concept is to maintain communities, not just pro-
tect owners.
To obtain insurance on a building, the state insurance agency and the
state fire agency have to approve the building construction plans. If
hazards are detected that cannot be corrected quickly, the insurance de-
partment might allow the building to be used, but at a stiff premium until
the problem is corrected.Inspections are made roughly once a year to see
if additional insurance is needed. T
his also serves to keep buildings up
to code
. Inspections are the responsibility of both the canton insurance
and building departments
. One person may perform both inspections or they
may be conducted separately
In Germany, everyone must have his house insured by the state
. One
must also tell the insurance department about any changes to the property
In some areas of the country, the insurance department can refuse to insure
if the property is judged to be too hazardous, but in general the insurance
department must insure every property, regardless of condition
. However,
as in Switzerland, they can regulate the premium depending on the degree of
. In some areas, the owners have the choice of whether to insure for
"new value" (enough to rebuild) or the market value or a lesser amount
Many American homes, particularly contemporary styles of woodframe
construction, asbestos or wood shingle roof, considerable open space, etc
would simply not be insurable in some countries in Europe
. Insurance - Arson Fraud
Insurance practices also can work to discourage arson for fraud
. In
Sweden, for example, you are not supposed to make a profit on a fire
. If
you do not rebuild, you usually will not get as much money as if you do
The original incentive for this payout policy was not to prevent arson, but
simply to reduce payments, since the companies sometimes do not have to pay
replacement costs, but rather only a lesser value, closer to the market
. This policy, however, also serves to remove much of the economic
incentive for arson for fraud
. You cannot burn a building, take the pro-
ceeds, and use them elsewhere.
Switzerland and Germany have similar policies
. You do not get fully
reimbursed for a loss unless you rebuild the same building facade and at
least the same quality building on the same spot
. As previously discussed,
their motivation was to preserve their communities, rather than save money
and stop profit on a loss, but the result for deterring arson is the same
In Germany, if you do not rebuild, you may get only 50 percent of the
. If you rebuild somewhere else, or rebuild a different building, the
amount is negotiated. There is not much arson for fraud in Germany. An
occasional thatched roof is torched. They have to be replaced about once
every ten years and require much expensive hand labor
; this creates an
incentive to burn the roof and collect the money to restore them
In France, you do not have to rebuild to receive insurance
. But you
usually get payment for only a fraction of the loss, which not only reduces
the incentive for arson for fraud, but also provides incentive for careful-
ness in general
. Arson for revenge is a growing concern in France and is
not deterred by the insurance policy. The insurance companies are investi-
gating fires more strictly to detect such instances. Insurance is also
used to reinforce the use of chimney sweeps. In some countries, not using
them may cause loss of insurance money if you have a fire related to heat-
In Britain, fire insurance is similar to that in the U.S. You do not
have to rebuild to receive full coverage
. Britain is one of the few Euro-
pean countries with a significant arson problem, and it is growing. Arson
is now thought to be the cause of about 150 out of the 800-1000 fire deaths
in Britain each year. It is estimated that over one third of the money
lost from fire is due to arson
. That is a larger percentage than in the
U.S.. However, the British per capita rate for arson in terms of deaths
and incidents is still lower than that in the U
It is believed that there are relatively few arsons for fraud in
. Most arson fires are thought to be a vandalism problem, probably
related to the growing divorce rate and its effect on children. Local
areas with high incidence of vandalism of all types also tend to have
higher arson rates. Thus, insurance practices may not be a factor.
The British plan for attacking arson was described as follows
• Increase police-fire liaison.
• Get building owners to improve security (e.g
., lock doors, keep
fences repaired, bring back resident caretakers)
. This is to
deter spontaneous arson attacks and vandalism.