Printer Friendly Format Email a Friend

PR- 199-08
May 29, 2008


One in Four Deaths Caused by Children Playing with Matches or Lighters

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta today released the second annual Child Fatality Report, a review of preventable fatalities among children ages one to 12 years that found that fires are the second leading cause of child deaths from injuries in New York City after motor vehicle accidents. More important, the report found that three quarters of the fires that killed children in New York City have easily-preventable causes - either adult behavior like leaving candles unattended, overloading outlets, or not extinguishing cigarettes or children playing with matches or lighters. Because of this, and because last year's Child Fatality Report (available on focused on automobile accidents, this year's report focuses on house fires and how they can be prevented.  In analyzing the 43 residential fires involving child deaths in New York City from 2001 to 2006, researchers found that most (85 percent) were set accidentally. The interdisciplinary committee that reviewed the deaths was led by the Health and Fire Departments and also includes other city agencies, pediatricians and child welfare advocates.

"At a time when we've had the fewest civilian fire fatalities of any six-year period in the City's history, we're still losing too many youngsters in fires that adults can readily prevent," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Parents and guardians must keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children. When a child dies, a piece of New York's future dies, too. We'll never know what that little boy or girl might have achieved. But we do know that we've got a duty to protect all of our children from the preventable dangers of this world. When it comes to protecting children from fires, a little common sense goes a very long way."

"When the Council passed legislation requiring this report, we wanted to raise awareness about simple steps that can prevent needless child deaths," said Speaker Quinn. "We know that the most powerful firefighting tool is prevention.  Parents have the power to take these fire safety precautions, and to educate their children about the importance of fire safety." 

"The FDNY  has made significant progress in reducing civilian deaths through fire safety education programs and advanced training for our members," said Commissioner Scoppetta. "But the death of any New Yorker - especially a child - requires our continued commitment to making sure it does not happen again. This report is a significant step in that direction by highlighting the deadly consequences of a fire in the home, and we look forward to using its results to better protect the community."

"There is nothing more tragic than the preventable death of a child.  Many of these deadly fires were caused by matches and lighters," said Commissioner Frieden. "We encourage parents to talk to children about the dangers of fire and keep matches and lighters out of reach."

The report found that death rates were similar for all New York City boroughs except Manhattan, where the risk was lower, but the study reveals sharp ethnic and racial disparities. Black children died at three times the rate of Hispanic children during the five year study period, and at twice the rate of white children. Overall, New York City's child fire death rate has declined steadily over time. The complete report is available at

A close review of the circumstances surrounding child fire deaths revealed several common risks:

  • Working smoke detectors were found in only one quarter of homes where a fire resulted in a fire death.
  • Nearly nine-in-ten children (89 percent) who died in a fire were at home with an adult.
  • Of the fatal fires started by children playing with matches or lighters, 81 percent started in a bedroom - most often a child's room.

Fatal fires were more common in some types of housing than in others. Nearly half occurred in multiple family walk-up dwellings, even though these buildings make up only 16 percent of the city's housing. Illegal building conversions (such as adding walls without permits) and illegal occupancies (creating additional apartments) were linked to 28 percent of fires. Public housing units also experienced a disproportionate share of fatal fires (they account for 2 percent of the city's housing stock and 16 percent of deadly fires), but all but one of these fires were related to human behavior (matches, lighters, etc.) rather than structural issues in the building.

Safety Tips on Cigarettes, Lighters, Matches and Candles

Keep matches and lighters in a secure drawer or cabinet, out of the reach of children.

  • Teach children that fire is not a toy.
  • Check under beds and in closets for matches, evidence that a child may be playing with fire.
  • Make sure cigarettes are completely extinguished before throwing them away.
  • Make sure that your home has at least one working smoke detector on each level and an additional smoke detector in or near each child's bedroom.
  • Never leave a lit candle unattended; always ensure that candles are on a flat, stable surface.
  • Never leave a child or pet alone with a lit candle or any open flame.

Key City Prevention Efforts

The City has a number of programs and regulations to help prevent fires.

Department of Buildings

  • DOB inspectors enforce a local law that requires landlords to install smoke detectors in multiple dwelling apartment buildings, and a law that requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in all multiple and private dwellings, as well as institutional and educational settings.
  • DOB inspectors enforce New York State code requiring checks for hardwire smoke detectors for all newly constructed buildings and buildings undergoing major construction alterations.
  • DOB inspectors enforce New York State code that requires permits and an approved licensed electrical contractor for electrical work in apartments and buildings. Violations are issued for non-compliance.
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • The Newborn Home Visit Program (NHVP), which visits low-income first time mothers to provide information on child and maternal health and environmental issues, assesses homes for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, overloaded sockets and other fire and burn safety health hazards. NHVP is currently seeking funding to provide smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to all program families.
  • The Nurse Family Partnership (NFP), a nurse home visiting program for low-income, first-time mothers, their infants and families, incorporates scald burn educational materials into program curriculum.
  • The Bureau of Environmental Disease Prevention produces and distributes fact sheets about the dangers of carbon monoxide; and a Healthy Homes brochure, which includes fire safety and prevention information, is distributed during community outreach activities and in daycare centers.
  • The Lead Poisoning Prevention Program provides healthy home and child safety information to families during all home visits. Inspectors also check for window guards, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and provides batteries for detectors.
  • The Poison Control Center distributes thousands of carbon monoxide detectors each year.

Fire Department 

  • Operates the FDNY Fire Zone, a state of the art fire safety learning center located in Rockefeller Center, which educates more than 100,000 people, including more than 25,000 school age children, annually.
  • Conducts nearly 10,000 public fire safety presentations each year, focusing on high fire risk neighborhoods. The "Fire Zone on the Road" program features active and retired firefighters delivering fire safety presentations at schools, community centers, health fairs and other venues.
  • Promotes the importance of smoke detectors through a citywide advertising campaign funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • Distributes hundreds of thousands of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and batteries directly to the public during "Operation Fresh Battery" - the largest single giveaway of smoke alarm batteries in New York City history - and other public safety campaigns.
  • Conducts hundreds of "Operation Sidewalk" programs, in which teams of fire safety educators respond immediately to communities where serious fires occur, presenting information on fire safety and prevention.
  • Distributes fire safety literature in 10 languages throughout New York City.
  • Presents information on fire safety, including informational videos, downloadable coloring books, and resources for parents and kids, on the FDNY and FDNY Foundation websites.

Motor Vehicle Deaths

Motor vehicle accidents are the single leading contributor to child fatalities Citywide, and in last year's Child Fatality Report that topic was the subject of a focused case review. The review found that rate of death among child passengers was seven times lower in the City than nationally, potentially due to less frequent car use. Driver inattention was the leading contributing factor to child motor vehicle-related deaths overall, though speeding and failure to yield were also key contributing factors. Local streets were the site of more than half of fatal accidents, and a disproportionate percentage of deaths occurred on arterial roads.

Many of the fatal pedestrian injuries reviewed in the report were due to children emerging from between parked vehicles, crossing against signals, and crossing midblock. The high frequency of fatal motor vehicle accidents near schools relates to the amount of time children spend near schools and the high density of schools across the city. As a result, the City Department of Transportation  has made recommendations for environmental improvements in more than 40% of fatal accident locations, such as sign replacement, refurbished crosswalks, and additional signage. Continued and expanded use of safety measures to reduce the risk of motor vehicle accidents, especially around schools, are also underway.

About the Report

This report was produced by the Child Fatality Review Team, which was established in 2006 to review all preventable deaths among New York City children ages one to 12. The multi-disciplinary committee, mandated by Local Law 115, introduced by Speaker Quinn, includes representatives from the Administration for Children's Services (ACS), the Department of Education, the Health Department, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, and the Police Department, as well as pediatricians and child welfare advocates appointed by the Mayor, City Council, and the Public Advocate.


Stu Loeser /Jason Post   (212) 788-2958

Francis X. Gribbon   (Fire Department)
(718) 999-2056

Jessica Scaperotti   (Health)
(212) 788-5290

More Resources
Download the report (in PDF)
Watch the video in low or high bandwidth