Victim Behaviours, Intentionality, And Differential Risks In Residential Fire Deaths
Free (open access)
I. Miller & P. Beever
The majority of fire deaths in New Zealand occur in residential structures. These are seen as largely preventable and are a basis for fire safety and prevention strategies. While such strategies have emphasised technological and engineering solutions (i.e. smoke alarms, egress standards, building code reform), there has been a lesser consideration of victim behaviours as a key factor in fire safety and prevention. This paper reports on a study of behavioural factors in all unintentional residential fire deaths from 1997-2003 in which inquest reports were examined to determine a range of demographic, fire dynamic, forensic, and behavioural features in 131 cases. The results support other findings which highlight the potent role of victim behaviours in fire ignition and spread, and in fatal outcomes. Significant factors identified include alcohol consumption, acts of omission, carelessness, dangerous habitual behaviours, and consequences of disabilities. A dichotomy between intentional and unintentional fires was not supported, as several cases fell into a borderline group whose role in fire causation was established (although intent to harm was not). Features of this group included attention seeking, irrational behaviour, and diminished cognitive/intellectual capacities. Those identified as being differentially at most risk of residential fire deaths were the young, the elderly, the disabled, and lower socioeconomic groups. Effective safety and prevention strategies must address specific behavioural characteristics of these disparate groups, especially sociopsychological processes, attitudes, and cognitive patterns that contribute to elevated fire risks. The theoretical and applied implications of these findings are discussed as part of a wider approach to fire safety and prevention strategies. Keywords: residential fire deaths, behaviour in fire, intentionality, differential fire risks, socio-psychological processes, fire safety and prevention.
residential fire deaths, behaviour in fire, intentionality, differential fire risks, socio-psychological processes, fire safety and prevention.