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New study identifies those at greatest risk with careless cooking fires

News Release Release Date: October 10, 2017 10:30 a.m.

For the tenth year in a row, cooking-related fires have topped the list of unintentional residential fires in Regina – amounting to half of all unintentional structure fire incidents. Between 2009 and 2015, cooking-related accidents caused 39 per cent of the city’s structure fires (413 of 1,046 fires) with over $8 million in damages.

Regina Fire & Protective Services and the University of Regina have teamed up to try to reverse this alarming trend.

“We know that residential cooking fires pose a serious threat to public safety,” said Fire Chief Layne Jackson. “What we didn’t know is who in our community is at greatest risk and what types of behaviour are leading to these fires.”  

Regina Fire & Protective Services approached the University of Regina’s Community Research Unit to assist them in conducting evidence-based research to discover the answer.  

“Our Community Research Unit connects community groups with University faculty and students – basically acting as a match-maker,” said Dr. Thomas Chase, University Vice-President and Provost. “It is a win-win situation. Members of the University have the opportunity to do meaningful research that addresses real community needs, while organizations such as Regina Fire & Protective Services get access to professional researchers to help direct community-based participatory action research projects like this one.”  

Regina Fire & Protective Services provided the support and resources needed to undertake this study. Thanks to this collaboration, Fire Suppression and Rescue Officers now complete a survey at the scene of every residential careless cooking incident that takes place in Regina.

“Our focus is on the human behaviour dynamics leading to actual, or potential, cooking fires,” said Dr. Rozzet Jurdi-Hage, the lead author of the report. “We also look at what efforts, if any, are taken by the resident to contain the fires.”

The findings in this report are based on surveys of 884 residential cooking fires that happened between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2015. Fire department officers collected information on all cooking incidents, irrespective of their severity or extent.

“After all,” said Chief Jackson, “big fires start small.”

Some of the key findings include:    

•    Comparison with census data suggests that Regina’s overseas-born newcomers had a relative incidence risk 1.8 times that of Regina’s Canadian-born population;

•    While the overall incident numbers for seniors were lower compared to their middle-aged counterparts, cooking incidents that did involve seniors were often more severe in nature;

•    Older teens and young adults were involved in cooking incidents that were more severe and required firefighters’ intervention;

•    Apartment dwellers were significantly less likely to take any action in response to the cooking incidents, which points to the need to further define these residents’ demographics and characteristics in terms of their knowledge of fire prevention and fire safety intervention behaviours;

•    The greatest number of cooking incidents occurred in the most economically depressed area of the city, the “Central Zone” When grouping the research project data by metropolitan area, a quarter (25.3%) of these cooking incidents happened in North Central;

•    Most cooking incidents occurred because the cook was distracted while preparing the meal or forgot that something was on the stovetop;

•    Serious cooking incidents were considerably more likely to occur when the resident left home while cooking, fell asleep, or was impaired by alcohol or drugs;

•    Smoke alarms are key to alerting the occupant of a potential fire early enough so they can react.

“We also learned that we must develop education campaigns that target, not only prevention of fires, but also help people know what to do to safely intervene once a fire begins,” said Chief Jackson.

Jackson said although fire intervention by residents played a large role in successfully preventing a fire (19.3%), or mitigating the outcomes of cooking incidents while they were still small (30.6%), almost half (45%) of the people who tried to intervene to stop the fire from spreading, engaged in behaviours that were unsafe or inappropriate.

Based on the report’s findings, work has already begun on developing a public education program targeting those at greatest risk of having cooking fires.

For more information, contact Angela Prawzick, Regina Fire & Protective Services, at 306-777-7860.

 

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