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Documenting Fire Death Incidents Without a Fire Department Response

Posted: Dec. 17, 2020

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The National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) only includes incidents that fire departments respond to. Because of this, some fire deaths are not reported by local fire departments. These incidents usually involve patients with burns who arrived directly at a hospital. A 2009 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission PDF 426 KB indicated that only 59 percent of fire injuries treated at a hospital occurred in fires with a fire department response.

Important points

  • Not all fire casualties are reported in NFIRS.
  • NFIRS only includes those incidents to which a fire department responds.
  • The fire department should send an investigator to document the incident scene using established investigative procedures.

How would a fire department document these incidents?

Example 1

A 50-year-old cancer patient is burned while cooking. The plastic oxygen cannula came in contact with the heating element and caught fire, sending flame and products of combustion into his nose. He went to the emergency department the next day for treatment. Hospital staff wanted to transport him to a regional burn center, but he declined and was discharged against medical advice.

Two days later, he had trouble breathing and called the local ambulance company. They transported him back to the emergency department where he died of his injuries.

Example 2

An ambulance not affiliated with a fire department arrived at a home for a reported injured person. Personnel discovered a 62-year-old female, sitting on the porch, with burns on her arm and torso.

During their examination, they discovered that her clothing ignited while she was cooking. Her husband extinguished the fire and helped her change clothes. The woman was admitted to the hospital and she died of her injuries the next day.


Both of these examples are fire deaths according to NFIRS, but there was no fire department response to the original incidents. If there is no fire department response, the fire department should not create an NFIRS report for the incident.

How to document fire death incidents when a department doesn’t respond

When state agencies become aware of these fire casualties, they should count them if the injury occurred in their state. However, states should not ask the local fire department to create an NFIRS incident report.

The appropriate way to handle the incident is to recommend that the fire department send an investigator to the scene and document the incident. The investigator should use established investigative procedures, which usually includes photographs and a narrative description. This investigative report should satisfy most state reporting requirements. Likewise, a fire department may complete a state-produced form documenting the fire death.