Researchers chase fire stories

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House fire research . . . Dr Amy Richardson and (below) Dr Rebbecca Lilley.

Real life experiences of accidental house fires in New Zealand will be used to help reduce fire-related injuries in the future.

Dr Amy Richardson and Dr Rebbecca Lilley, research fellows in the University of Otago’s Injury Prevention Research Unit, are searching for people who have been involved in accidental house fires in the past five years to share their stories.

“Through interviewing a range of people, we are hoping to understand the different ways people respond to a house fire,” Dr Richardson said.

The two-year nationwide research project has been commissioned by Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz), with the aim of enhancing its fire and injury prevention efforts in the future.

Although data on house fires in New Zealand is complicated and incomplete, there were 108 fatal house fires in the country from 2007 to 2014, which resulted in 118 deaths.

ACC figures showed that there were more than 10,000 claims for fire-related injuries from 2013 to 2017, with hospital data showing 2257 fire-related hospitalisations in the same period.

Fenz data showed 1716 cases of fire-related injuries from 2013 to 2017.

Internationally, house fires account for just 30% of fires, but are the leading cause of injuries and hospitalisations.

“The picture is very complicated, so part of the aim of our research will be to provide a clearer picture for Fenz to use in developing their fire prevention work,” Dr Richardson said.

The researchers are keen to talk to about 40 people, aged 18 years and over, who have experienced an accidental house fire in the past five years, whether they were injured or not.

Interviews of 30 to 60 minutes can be done in person, online, or by phone.

Participants will be asked questions covering a broad range of topics, such as how people became aware of the fire, whether they left the house straight away and whether they called Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz).

“Interestingly, research in Australia and the United Kingdom has shown that 80% of people don’t contact [fire services],” she said.

It would be interesting to discover if the numbers were similar in New Zealand, and the reasons for it.

“Sometimes people are embarrassed about how the fire has started, or they may feel that they can tackle it on their own.

“We are also interested in people’s ideas of fire behaviour – in some of the interviews we have done so far, people have been shocked by how fast fire can move.

“It will also be interesting to see if people were prepared with a fire escape plan.”

One interviewee felt very lucky that their child had taken part in fire safety lessons at school and had urged the family to make a fire plan.

“It made all the difference to how they responded when they had a fire at home.”

People who have been through a house fire are invited to email amy.richardson@otago.ac.nz or rebbecca.lilley@otago.ac.nz.