Jan 2006

Fire Protection Statistics

Automatic Sprinklers

1 in 16 million sprinklers will leak or accidentally discharge due to mechanical failure.

Between 1 and 9 sprinklers are usually required to control a fire. Sprinklers are usually activated when the temperature reaches 165°F.

Percentage of Sprinkler Failure 1989-1998:

26% – public assembly properties
20% – educational properties
20% – healthcare/correctional facilities
19% – stores/offices
16% – storage properties
16% – other
15% – residential
9% – manufacturing facilities

Reasons why Automatic Sprinklers Failed to Operate:

52% – system shut-off
21% – lack of maintenance
16% – manual intervention defeated system
7% – inappropriate system for type of fire
3% – system component damaged

Reasons why Automatic Sprinklers Deemed Ineffective (fires deemed large enough to activate):

50% – agent didn’t reach fire
32% – not enough agent released
11% – inappropriate system for type of fire
4% – system component damaged
3% – manual intervention defeated system


The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors stated that between 1992 and 2000 there were an average of 1,023 losses each year from overheating boilers.

Builders Risk

Builder Risk Losses, 1991-2005 (FM clients)

$236 million – Fire
$225 million – Natural hazards
$48 million – Liquid
$38 million – Other
$8 million – Impact

Fire Pumps

$102 million – total estimated gross cost of fire pump impairment-related losses (FM clients) in a 10-yr period.

Types of fire pump failures:

40% – manual pump not started or delayed start
30% – automatic pump impairment before loss
13% – electric power failure
13% – water supply impairment
4% – pump failure during fire

Fire Statistics

Between 1977 and 2004, the number of fires in the U.S. has dropped by half, whereas property damage has doubled. (Source: NFPA Survey, MFPA’s Fire Incident Data Organization [FIDO])

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,550,500 fires in 2004. These fires resulted in 3,900 civilian fire fatalities, 17,785 civilian fire injuries and an estimated $9.7 billion in direct property loss, of which $8.3 billion occurred in non-residential structures. There was a civilian fire death every 135 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 30 minutes.

Intentionally set structure fires resulted in $714 million in property loss in 2004.

When adjusted for inflation, the increase in average loss for structure fires between 1977 and 2001 is 56%.

Fire Loss Rates Nationwide by Region, 2004 (Property loss per capita):

30% – Northeast
34% – North central
36% – South
30% – West

The core of the total cost of fire was $85 billion in 2002. Other cost components estimated only in one-time special studies, may add ~$37 billion to that total. Human losses would add $9 billion and donated time of volunteers is roughly estimated to range between $37 and $90 billion. Adding these figures together produces a total value affected by fire of between $208 and $251 billion, or about 2% of U.S GDP.

In fires with sprinklers present, the chances of dying in a fire are reduced by ½ to ¾ and average property loss is cut by ½ to 2/3, compared with fires where sprinklers are not present. Sprinklers failed to operate in only 7% of structure fires large enough to activate them. System shut-offs and other human errors were responsible for nearly all failures.

Civilian death rate per 1,000 fires in 1989-1998 was 86% lower in fires with automatic sprinkler systems than without sprinklers. Sprinklers typically cut average property loss by ½ to 2/3.

Hot Work

1 in 20 fire losses are sparked by improperly managed “hot work.”

The average gross cost of “hot work” fire losses is $1.4 million. (FM clients)

The average gross cost of dust explosions is $1.6 million. (FM clients)

Ignition Sources and Causes of Fire Losses

Leading Ignition Sources Controlled by Contractors at the Time of Loss:

74% – “Hot Work”
7% – Electricity
7% – Arson
5% – Smoking
4% – Hot surface
3% – Burner Flame

Major Causes of Non-residential Structure Fires:

22% – intentional
14% – cooking equipment
10% – electrical equipment
10% – open flame
9% – heating equipment
8% – exposure
7% – other heat source
7% – other equipment
5% – appliance, tool, or air conditioning
4% – smoking materials
2% – child playing
2% – natural causes

If you would like an explanation of any of the above, please contact us.


“Fire Loss in the United States during 2004 Full Report,” by Michael Karter, Fire Analysis and Research Division of NFPA September 2005

“Selections from the U.S. Fire Problem Overview Report Leading Causes and Other Patterns and Trends Stores and Other Mercantile Properties,” by Marty Ahrens, Fire Analysis and Research Division of NFPA June 2003

“The Total Cost of Fire in the United States,” by John Hall, Fire Analysis and Research Division of NFPA September 2004

“U.S. Experience with Sprinklers and Other Fire Protection Extinguishing Equipment,” by Kim Rohr, Fire Analysis and Research Division of NFPA August 2005

“NFPA Fire Incident Data Organization” (FIDO), November 2004

FM Global 2005 Resource Catalog, February 2004