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February 21, 2004

Report links alcohol abuse and fatalities from house fires

The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has issued a special report citing a significant link between alcohol abuse and residential fire deaths and between alcohol and the risk of unintentional injury, including car accidents, falls, drowning, homicide and suicide.

"This important issue of our Topical Fire Research Series underscores an often overlooked connection between alcohol abuse and fire injuries and death," said Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response. "We hope this report helps educate fire officials and the public about this problem so that campaigns that have been so successful in warning about drinking and driving can bring similar attention to drinking and fires."

According to the report, "Establishing a Relationship Between Alcohol and Casualties of Fire," developed by the National Fire Data Center, part of FEMA's U.S. Fire Administration, up to 40 percent of residential fire death victims are alcohol impaired. In addition, nearly half of adult emergency room patients treated for trauma are alcohol impaired, and burn victims with high blood alcohol levels are more likely to die from their injuries than victims with no alcohol impairment.

"This report also makes an important note that smoking combined with alcohol abuse exacerbates the risk of fires, fire injuries and fire deaths," said U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison. "Smoking and drinking is a particularly dangerous combination since smoking materials offer a ready-made fire threat and alcohol consumption decreases one's chances of detecting and escaping a fire."

Two related case studies are also being released, further exploring the connection between alcohol abuse and fire deaths. One case study reviewed fire data for Minnesota, which collects alcohol use data as part of its ongoing injury surveillance system. In Minnesota, from 1996 to 2002, 36 percent of the state's fire fatalities had alcohol levels of 0.1 or higher. The second case study looked at data collected by the Ontario, Canada, fire marshal. According to that case study, 19 percent of fire fatalities from 1995 to 2001 were alcohol impaired.