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UB researchers study cost of structural fires

By CORY NEALON

Published December 4, 2017

The total cost of structural fires in the United States in 2014 was $328.5 billion.

That’s according to a new report written by UB engineers and issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The report looks at structural fires — those involving residential, commercial and industrial buildings. It does not examine wildfires, vehicle fires and other outdoor fires.

“Our firefighters, emergency responders and policymakers need accurate and timely data to make critical decisions regarding fire protection. This report provides an in-depth look at the United States’ firefighting efforts,” says Jun Zhuang, the report’s lead author.

Zhuang, associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, says $273.1 billion, or 83 percent, of the cost can be traced to outfitting new buildings with fire prevention systems, operating fire departments, fire insurance and other expenditures.

The cost associated with losses — such as deaths, injuries and destruction of property — was $55.4 billion.

Here is a breakdown of the costs, in 2014 dollars.

The report does not include some costs such as industry-owned fire departments, the cost of water for firefighting and the cost of enhancing fire-protection systems in existing buildings.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • The total cost of structural fire in the U.S. has increased by 50 percent from 1980 to 2014, from $218.5 billion to $328.5 billion (both in 2014 dollars).
  • The total cost of structural fire in the U.S. as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product has dropped from 7.6 percent in 1980 to 1.9 percent in 2014, a 75 percent decrease.

The report is an update of a previous NFPA report issued in March 2014 that found the total cost of structural fires in the U.S. in 2011 to be $328.7 billion. The latest report uses a different methodology. It puts the total cost of structural fires in the U.S. in 2011 at $297 billion.

The research was funded by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, which is a research affiliate of the National Fire Protection Association.