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The Cost of Fires
Children of Fire The cost of attending South African fires

© Peter Davey, Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa.

Presentation to the Liquid Petroleum Gas Safety Seminar, October 2002.

Spiralling increases in insurers’ fire losses has brought into focus the seriousness of the country’s loss statistics.

Cost to insurers

Insurance industry figures reflect the national trend, with statistics over the past eight years indicating a dramatic increase in the value of claims paid. R400 million was paid out in 1990; this increased to R1.4 billion in just eight years. In five years from 1993 to 1998, the total value of claims quadrupled.

Premium increases have been unable to keep up with the spiralling claims, and most insurers are now making significant losses on their fire account.

When analysing the reasons for the increasing losses, the first question asked by the insurance industry was whether there was a corresponding increase in the number of claims. An analysis of the industry figures showed that the number of claims per annum had in fact had decreased since 1990.

Significant increases in the total amount paid out by insurers on fire losses, against a decline in the number of claims, gives rise to much concern. The graph shows that the average value of each claim has risen dramatically since 1990.

                       

The national loss

The direct cost of fire is still increasing in South Africa. Figures that were prepared by the FPASA for the year 1999, reflect a loss of R 2.4 billion. That is 0.3 per cent of the country’s gross national product. It also represents losses of R196,404,416 a month, R6,546,813 a day and R273,000 an hour. Bear in mind that the loss figure excludes fires underground, consequential losses and losses which involved uninsured, or underinsured properties and we begin to get a sense of the problem.

To gauge the true cost of the threat of fire to society, calculations would need to be done for the cost of public fire services, public fire education, fire research and the cost of fire protection equipment in buildings. Add to that the cost of fatalities and even the cost of treating burn injuries and the figures inflate to imponderable proportions. This calculation has not been done, nor will it be in the future.

Cost of fire service provision

An exercise in the cost of fire brigade services in the East Rand has been undertaken and it serves as a useful example of cost to ratepayers. 

The comparative figures used come from the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan area and are taken from the Councils’ audited statements for the fire service alone and reflect the operating budget for 1999.    

1999 Operating Budget (m)

Town

R Cost

Alberton

  4.4

Boksburg

15.6

Brakpan

  7.4

Germiston

  8.6

Nigel

  2.4

Benoni

  6.8

Cost per incident

Town

R Cost

Alberton

11,587

Boksburg

25,694

Brakpan

     ?

Germiston

  5,207

Nigel

  4,025

Benoni

  1,058

Cost per resident

Town

R Cost

Alberton

26

Boksburg

40.24

Brakpan

29.58

Germiston

33.79

Nigel

27.87

Benoni

25.51

Let’s presuppose that the “Cost per incident” average of R 9,514.20 is typical for the country as a whole, then the total of 51,369 fires responded to by fire brigades during 1999 would have cost

R488,734 940, giving an overall loss figure of R2.9 billion.

Cost to persons

The first annual report of the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS), was published in November 2000. NIMSS is a mortuary-based system capturing 21 information items describing the “who, what, when, where and how” of fatal injuries.

This report covers 1 January to 31 December 1999, during which

14,829 fatal injuries were registered at 10 mortuaries in five provinces. This is approximately 25 per cent of the estimated 60,000 fatal injuries occurring for the whole country each year, and the 1999 sample was biased to mainly urban areas.

If we concentrate on the incidents involving burns, in this category of the manner of death, we learn that burns ranked first in the age group one to four years old. In the category of other accidental deaths including burns, falls, drowning, etc., 41 per cent of the 1,149 deaths were as a result of burns. Burns were the leading external cause of death under one year of age and the second predominant cause in the age group 1 to 4. Pedestrian injuries lead the age category of 1 to 14, with burns coming in second. There were 1:5 males per female burn deaths and most burns occurred in private homes. Blood alcohol concentrations (BACs), were positive in 52 per cent of the burn fatalities.

Of the 14,824 cases where precise information was available, burns caused 823 deaths. This represents 9 per cent of accident deaths. Burn deaths also occurred most frequently in private homes and were the leading cause of death in residential institutions (e.g. hostels) and on farms.

Figure 30 shows that there were 1,169 deaths due to burns, falls, drowning and other accidents. Most were due to burns (41 per cent), followed by other accidents (27%), drowning (20%) and falls (12%).


 

The cost of burn treatment is not available, but an idea of the implications of this very sad reality is that a night in a hospital is estimated at R650 and any surgery will cost approximately R 10,000. At least one known patient has had over R1 million spent on her and the prognosis remains poor. Clearly, there is a great deal at stake!

References:         Fire Protection, June 2000, journal of the FPASA.

A profile of fatal injuries in South Africa 1999, edited by A Butchart.

Children of Fire Trust (www.icon.co.za/~firechildren and personal communication.






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This material is Copyright The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2017.
Distribution or re-transmission of this material, excluding the Schools' Guide, is expressly forbidden without prior permission of the Trust.
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