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High human cost of burns means $7.6 billion economic loss in Canada

November 7, 2016

A new study led by Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre has found that lives shortened or lost in fires have cost the Canadian economy CAN$7.6 billion.

“The first phase of our study looked at the cost of treating patients, while the second phase aimed to put a number on the potential years of life lost (PYLL) and the cost of fire deaths in residential homes,” says Joanne Banfield, lead researcher for the study and Manager of Trauma Injury Prevention at Sunnybrook. “We found that over a 14-year period, there was a loss of 24,051 years of life and the cost of PYLL due to residential fires totaled $7.6 billion. We also found that the average cost to treat a burn patient was $84,678.”

To arrive at these numbers, researchers examined coroner investigation statements and autopsy reports of adults who died in homes without fire sprinklers between 1998 and 2012. Of the 1,176 people who were included in the study, 72 per cent died from smoke inhalation. “The vast majority of people were not killed by burns, but rather by smoke inhalation, which drives home the importance of having working smoke detectors in every home,” says Banfield.

The first phase of the study, which analyzed the cost of treating patients at Sunnybrook with burn or inhalation injuries caused by residential fires, found that over a 17-year period, the treatment of burn victims cost the health care system $96 million. When all resources were accounted for, including rehabilitation, transportation and property loss, this number increases to $3.6 billion.

Sandra Treacy understands how far-reaching the human cost and economic consequences of a burn injury can be. “I was burned in a house fire in March 2014, and after two years, I’ve actually lost count of how many surgeries I’ve had. I’m still undergoing treatment, so I haven’t been able to return to work,” she says.

To demonstrate the extreme damage a house fire can cause, a live burn demo was conducted in a controlled environment Monday at the Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) in Mississauga to show the result of having an automated sprinkler installed in a home when a fire breaks out, versus not having one.

Phase one of the study was sponsored by The Cooperators, Canadian Automatic Sprinkler Association (CASA), Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC), The Fire Marshals Public Fire Safety Council, (FMPFSC) and the Ontario Municipal Fire Prevention Officers Association (OMFPOA). The Cooperators and the Canadian Automatic Sprinkler Association (CASA) sponsored phase two of the study.

Media contact 

Sybil Millar
Communications Advisor
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre