NFPA Report: Hotel/Motel Fires Declining

Bruce Beggs |

QUINCY, Mass. — The number of fires that were reported in U.S. hotels and motels declined in 2002 for a third straight year, according to statistics published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
2002 is the most recent year for which data was reported in Selections from U.S. Fires in Selected Occupancies: Hotels and Motels, prepared by Marty Ahrens of the NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division.
Hotel and motel structure fires have fallen 67% from 12,530 in 1980 to a 23-year record low of 4,180 in 2002 (the number of fires is rounded to the nearest 10 in the report). From 2001 to 2002, these fires fell 9%. In comparison, structure fires of all types declined 51% from 1980 to 2002. From 2001 to 2002, total structure fires fell less than 1%.
Hotels and motels include facilities for year-round and for seasonal use, according to Ahrens’ report. In earlier versions of the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), hotels with kitchens in individual units were considered “home hotels” and weren’t included in the category. Home hotels have now been converted into the hotel category with Version 5.0, but the rooming house category includes residential hotels.WHERE DO LAUNDRIES, RELATED EQUIPMENT AND LINENS FIT IN?
From 1999 through 2002, an average of 490 fires (11% of the total) originated annually in the laundry rooms or areas of U.S. hotels and motels. No civilian deaths were reported, but these fires caused an average of 18 civilian injuries annually.
The laundry room area trailed only the bedroom (average of 870 fires – 19%) and the kitchen or cooking area (average of 810 fires – 18%) as the area of origin in hotel and motel structure fires over the four-year period.
Direct property damage resulting from these fires averaged $4.3 million annually, accounting for 5% of damage from hotel and motel fires overall. Only fires in the bedroom ($15.2 million average – 18%), attic or ceiling ($10.6 million average – 12%), kitchen/cooking area ($9.4 million average – 11%) and the lobby or entranceway ($4.7 million average – 5%) caused more direct property damage.
A clothes dryer or washer played a part in 430 fires (9%) on average from 1999 through 2002, ranking second on the list of equipment involved in ignition. No civilian deaths were reported, but these incidents caused an average of 21 civilian injuries each year. Direct property damage averaged $2 million annually. In nearly 40% of fires during the four-year period, there was no equipment involved.
A mattress or bedding was the first item ignited in 10% of fires reported then, placing in second only to cooking materials, including food (13%). Linens other than bedding (such as towels or tablecloths) were first ignited in 260 fires (6%). Dust, fiber or lint was first ignited in 120 fires (3%).
Radiated or conducted heat from operating equipment was responsible for starting 28% of these fires (1,280). Spontaneous combustion or a chemical reaction (30), and a confined fuel burner or boiler fire or malfunction (30), started just 1%.OTHER NOTES OF INTEREST
During 1999-2002, the 4,550 structure fires averaged in hotels and motels accounted for 0.9% of the 517,000 total structure fires, 0.5% of the 3,140 civilian deaths, 1.1% of the 17,730 civilian injuries and 1.0% of the $8.6 billion in direct property loss.
Hotel and motel structure fires were more common on weekends, statistics show. January was the peak month, and Saturday and Sunday were the peak days (Friday was third). Surprisingly, only 25% of the reported fires occurred between midnight and 8 a.m.
Cooking equipment was involved in one of every four reported hotel and motel structure fires.
Roughly half of the fire deaths and injuries resulted from fires starting in the bedroom. These blazes caused 53% of the civilian fire deaths and 46% of the civilian fire injuries in this property.
Fires beginning with structural members or framing (4%) had unusually high property loss (16%).
Automatic fire suppression systems were present in one-third of hotel and motel structure fires in 1994-1998. The average estimated direct property damage was more than twice as high when no automatic suppression system was present.
Although fatal fires in these properties occur less frequently than fatal fires in homes, the potential for a large loss of life is very real, Ahrens writes in the report.BEHIND THE NUMBERS
The fires cited in the NFPA survey were reported to U.S. municipal fire departments. Fires reported only to federal or state agencies were excluded.
Estimates were made using the NFIRS of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) United States Fire Administration (USFA), supplemented by the annual stratified random-sample survey of fire experience conducted by the NFPA, which is used for calibration.
Roughly three-fourths of all states have NFIRS coordinators who receive fire incident data from participating fire departments and combine the data into a state database. These data are then transmitted to FEMA/USFA.
Participation by the states, and by local fire departments within participating states, is voluntary. NFIRS captures roughly one-third to one-half of all U.S. fires each year.
More than one-third of all U.S. fire departments is listed as participants in NFIRS, although not all of these departments provide data every year.
The NFPA survey is based on a stratified random sample of roughly 3,000 U.S. fire departments, which translates to just over one of every 10 departments in the country.
Its strength is that it provides the most detailed incident information of any national database not limited to large fires. It’s the only database capable of addressing national patterns for fires of all sizes by specific property use and specific fire cause.RESOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division’s One-Stop Data Shop ( offers a package of statistics and published articles and reports about fires in high-rise hotels. NFPA members may download a number of these reports free.
Section 13, Chapter 10 in the 19th edition of the NFPA Fire Protection Handbook, Lodging Occupancies by April Leyla Berkol and Thomas G. Daly describes some of the special fire safety concerns for these properties.
An NFPA video, Fire Safety: Prevention and Response for the Lodging Industry, teaches employees how to identify and correct fire hazards.
NFPA’s Hotel/Motel Fire Safety Brochure has tips for travelers.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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