New York City Building Fire Accident and Injury Law Firm


Building Fire Prevalence

Building fires are significantly more common than most people think. According to the National Fire Protection Association, firefighters respond to over 1 million fire calls each year in the United States. In 2013, over 3,000 Americans were killed and nearly 16,000 were injured in building fires. The prevalence of fires is staggering, with over 3,000 fires a day that require firefighter intervention.

Because they happen with such frequency, investigators have learned a great deal over the years regarding the causes of fires, and have also determined best practices owners and business can follow to reduce the likelihood of a serious fire occurring. With this knowledge base, fires should occur at a less regular rate, but the number of fire calls remains stubbornly above one million on a year-by-year basis.

Common Causes

Whenever a building fire occurs, the fire department is tasked with determining the source of the fire. There are a variety of common causes frequently found in reports from fire investigators. These common causes include:

  • Kitchen fires, which are commonly associated with some degree of negligence on the part of the building owner or tenant, as these fires are frequently the result of improper cleaning, maintenance, or handling of equipment
  • Electrical fires, which are frequently the result of improper or defective wiring, or attempting to overload rather than upgrade the electrical system as a cost-saving measure
  • Arson, often for insurance purposes
  • Smoking of cigarettes, particularly where employees or management have disabled smoke detectors
  • The storage of flammable materials near heat sources

Fire Safety

Fire safety is an important consideration for homes and businesses. At the very least, businesses should have fire extinguishers readily available, fire alarms installed in circuit through the electrical system, Exit signs, and a fire evacuation protocol and map for visitors to follow in case of conflagration. But even beyond these basic policies, there are a great many things businesses and property owners can do to keep people safe.

Fireproofing is an incredibly important aspect of minimizing the risk of injury, death, and property damage in the event of a fire. Building codes set the standards, but it is almost always preferable to exceed these standards in order to provide the safest possible environment. Even where building codes are less stringent (or nearly entirely lacking, as in some rural areas), courts still expect minimum standards to be complied with. Building owners are liable if these standards are not met, and reasonable expectations for fireproofing include:

  • The use of firewalls in attics and crawlspaces, as well as between units as applicable, to prevent the rapid spread of fire
  • The use of fireproof plasters and materials during construction
  • The use of structural steel to protect against structural collapse
  • Fireproofing of the electrical panel to decrease the likelihood of an electrical fire due to a short

At each stage of construction, an official (usually a building inspector) from the city or county must sign off that proper safety requirements are met. Though this is a reasonable precaution against builders and owners cutting corners, there are countless examples of contractors finding ways to make a building appear fireproofed when it actually is not. Never assume that just because the building has been inspected and is up to code, that the proper protocols were actually followed and the proper fireproofing is in place. Always consult a fire expert in the event of a fire to verify that safety protocols, both in building and in maintenance, were followed.

What to Do In Case of a Fire

If you are in a commercial building, and you smell smoke, feel heat, or see fire, it is important to remain calm. First, proceed to the nearest fire alarm and trigger it, so that everyone else in the building is aware of the danger. Then, if the fire is small or prevents you from making a safe exit, use the nearest fire extinguisher to extinguish the flame.

If the flame is not small, or if you are unable to extinguish it, follow Exit signs or look for evacuation protocols on the wall, and proceed to the fire exits. Being on the second floor or higher is particularly dangerous. In most buildings with elevators, the elevators are not a safe means of evacuation. Proceed to the nearest staircase. If you are on an upper floor, and neither the stairs nor the elevator provide a safe exit, seek an exterior window, open the window, and signal your location to the fire department. While you wait for the fire department to evacuate you, stay as low as possible to limit your exposure to smoke.

If you are in a building when a fire occurs, there are a variety of dangers you are exposed to. The risk of burns is the most obvious, and burn injuries are among the most painful and difficult to treat. But smoke inhalation can cause a variety of respiratory problems, and even partial collapse of a building is likely to result in significant injuries from falling debris. Even if you do not suffer a physical injury, the emotional fallout of being trapped in a burning building can be devastating.

If you or someone you love has suffered due to a building fire, knowing how to proceed to get the compensation and care you are entitled to can be very difficult. There are a variety of laws and building codes that must be taken into account to determine liability, and sifting through all that information can be daunting.

If you have any doubt as to how to proceed, please take our free Building Fire Accident and Injury Case Evaluation Form to provide the basic information to begin determining who was at fault for the fire occurring, and whether or not proper safety protocols were followed. Finz & Finz, P.C., has years of experience handling these difficult cases, and can advise you on your next step. If you prefer the phone to the internet, you may contact our New York City premises liability lawyer, toll-free at (855) TOP-FIRM.