D1/2003Y School building in residential use catches fire in Jyväskylä rural municipality; Five Other Fires Over The Period From April 20 To May 20, 2003
A task force investigated a fire having occurred on April 24, 2003 in Jyväskylä rural municipality and having resulted in three male fatalities, as well as five other fatal fires having taken place over period of one month. The task force furthermore drew up a survey on all fires with fatal outcome in 2003, as based on data received from the rescue authority, the police, and the mass media.
As implied by the information collected by the task force, in 2003 a total of 105 persons died in altogether 95 different fires. Over the ten preceding years, the annual average of fatalities in fires was 87 persons, according to the relevant statistics. In 2003 the most frequent causes of fatal fires included smoking (about 30%), intentional setting on fire (about 15%), carelessness with fire (about 15%), and electrical device (under 15%). In about 25 per cent of the cases, the cause of the fire was unknown. Over 95% of the fires occurred in residential environments.
In buildings about 6000 – 7000 fires are recorded per year of which less than 2% have a fatal outcome. Consequently it is not only the cause of a fire that should be investigated but above all the factors that lead to a fire resulting in fatalities. Actually in almost all cases death was caused by the resident being unable to act as required in a fire situation, or being unable or unwilling to understand what would be the adequate modes of action, and hence failing to escape fast enough from the building. As a rule, the probability of managing to escape and survive showed a deteriorating trend as due to, among other factors, a reduced capability to act accordingly, as caused by alcohol or drug use, physical or mental illness, or advanced age. Furthermore in a fire situation, small children are entirely dependent on the aid of others.
In most fires with fatal outcome, the resident would have needed immediate help by others in order to be rescued. But to deliver and receive help the fire needs to be immediately detected, since if the fire is only discovered from outside the building, it is often too late to manage to get the persons inside out of the building. Nearly all fatal fires in 2003 were discovered too late to enable the fire brigade to save the persons inside.
The task force confirms that the relative number of fire fatalities in Finland is remarkably high as compared with the corresponding figures in the other Western European countries, and that no signs of improvement of the situation are discernible. On the contrary as the baby boomers grow older fire fatalities are expected to increase. As the present state of affairs cannot be accepted, the following principle targeting a more positive development in the future should be generally adopted by society (in parallel with corresponding traffic safety targets): the housing conditions of people should be such as preventing any fatality or serious injury in the event of a fire.
The task force proposes that in the future all fatal fires be thoroughly investigated. Moreover the task force recommends that in connection with their decision-making on housing issues, the municipalities, organisations supplying housing services, relevant associations and foundations take into consideration fire risks and assess the fire safety standard to be adopted. In terms of practical measures to improve fire safety, the task force suggests that special campaigns be arranged to promote safe smoking habits and that subsidies be allocated to improve fire safety in residences and specifically to equip the residences with automatic fire extinguishing systems (sprinklers).