6 Goals to Improve Fire Safety in U.S., a World Leader in Fire Death Rates

WPI Center for Firesafety Studies Director Challenges the Country on the 25th Anniversary of its First-in-the-Nation M.S. Program in Fire Protection Eng.

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5706

WORCESTER, Mass. - March 26, 2004 - Even in 2004, the United States still has one of the highest rates of deaths from fire in the industrialized world. Progress has been made in the last few decades - establishment of government agencies like the U.S. Fire Administration, stricter laws and regulations, and more widespread use of sprinklers in commercial buildings and smoke detectors in homes. Yet, as witnessed by high-profile disasters like The Station nightclub fire in Warwick, R.I., and the Worcester Cold Storage fire in Worcester, Mass., the nation has a long way to go.

What should be done to make the country and its citizens truly safe from fire?

For the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the nation's first master's degree program in fire protection engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), David A. Lucht, founding director of the university's Center for Firesafety Studies, is challenging the nation with six goals he believes the country should strive for in the next quarter century, to the year 2029:

  • Enforcement - Fire safety laws should be enforced with the same rigor as laws against speeding and drunk driving on the highways.
  • Legislation - Laws should be modernized to give enforcement officials the same tools as are available to traffic cops.
  • Public actions - Grass roots movements like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) can cause change in our cultural tolerance of "fire traps."
  • Public education - Ten times more effort is needed nationally to educate the public about safety behaviors, especially for the most vulnerable groups like children and the elderly.
  • Research funding - Fire research funding in the U.S. has declined 85% in the past 30 years. This trend needs to be reversed at the highest policy levels of government.
  • Technology for fire services - Technological innovations are needed to help the nations' firefighters combat fires more safely and effectively.

"We as a nation have lost the urgency we felt decades ago about the importance of fire safety," says Lucht. "In 1973, the landmark report America Burning found that 'appallingly, the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the world leads all the major industrialized countries in per capita deaths and property loss from fire.' As a result, Congress and the President of the United States treated fire safety as an important national issue - passing the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974, and establishing the United States Fire Administration and its National Fire Academy." Lucht insists, "It is now time that importance be re-surfaced and that major national efforts be renewed."

WPI is home to the world's flagship educational program in fire protection engineering - which incorporates elements of civil, structural, electrical and chemical engineering to make structures, vehicles, clothing and people safer from fire. In addition to offering the nation's first master's degree program in fire protection engineering in 1979, the university was the first to provide a graduate-level program via distance learning in 1993, and it grants the world's only formal Ph.D. program in the field. WPI has conferred more than 350 master's and doctoral degrees in fire protection engineering with students hailing from more than 30 countries.

A 25th anniversary celebration of WPI's pioneering fire protection engineering degree program is being held at WPI on April 1, 2004. More details can be found at https://www.wpi.edu/Academics/Depts/Fire/News/14310.htm.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865, WPI is a pioneer in technological higher education. WPI was the first university to understand that students learn best when they have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to the solution of important problems. Today, its first-rate research laboratories support master's and Ph.D. programs in more than 30 disciplines in engineering, science and the management of technology.