Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Alcohol and Fire

Alcohol intoxication may increase the risk of starting a fire by impairing one's judgment and coordination. A smoker, under the influence of alcohol, is more susceptible to falling asleep and dropping a lit cigarette on upholstery or clothing. The effect of alcohol may cause a failure to notice the smell of smoke or hear a smoke alarm, and escaping from a fire can be hampered by the loss of motor coordination and mental clarity, even when warning signs are heeded.

Understanding the Risk
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol use and the resulting impairment may be the strongest independent factor for death from fire. One study found that intoxication contributed to an estimated 40% of deaths due to residential fires. By altering ones cognitive, physiological, and motor functions, alcohol increases the chance of starting a serious fire while at the same time reduces the chance of survival from a fire or burn injury.

Young children, older adults, and those who are dependent on a caregiver are most vulnerable to fire deaths and injuries due to their dependence on others. According to the American Medical Association, the presence of an adult with no physical or cognitive disability who was unimpaired by alcohol or other drugs reduced the risk of death in this group.

Men have been found to consistently outnumber women among fire casualties and do so with even greater disparity for fire victims under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the younger adult population (ages 15 – 24) seems to incur the greatest number of alcohol-impaired fire casualties. Drinking behaviors that are characteristic of each gender and various age groups may explain these findings.

Researchers have suggested that alcohol-related unintentional injuries have more to do with alcohol drinking patterns than the total amount of alcohol consumed per capita. Who drinks, where they drink, what they drink, and under what social, cultural and religious circumstances they drink are perhaps more significant factors than the amount of alcohol consumed. A lone drinker at home is probably at greater risk of a fire emergency than a group of people drinking in a bar or restaurant. Moreover, the number of drinks consumed in a single sitting seems to matter a great deal.

Alcohol and College Students
In cases where fire fatalities have occurred on college campuses, alcohol was a factor. There is a strong link between alcohol and fire deaths. In more than 40% of adult fire fatalities, victims were under the influence at the time of the fire. Alcohol abuse often impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts.
Tragic scenarios, too often repeated
Chapel Hill, North Carolina…in the 1996 fraternity fire that killed five students, four of them had blood alcohol levels of over 0.14. This fire broke out following a party the evening before, as had the fire in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania where three males were killed.
Amherst, Massachusetts…a fire the day following a party destroyed the fraternity. There were large numbers of empty beer cans. The smoke alarms had all been covered with bags so they would not activate during the party.

Minimize Your Risk
It is possible to minimize fire risk by increasing the awareness of those who drink and those who are surrounded by regular drinkers. Understand the dangers and don't become a fire statistic!