The Leading Causes of Fire in Healthcare Facilities

According to a recent USFA report, there is an average of 5,700 fires reported every year in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, with 48% of those reported fires in nursing homes. These fires claim lives and are responsible for property damage that total millions of dollars. More importantly, thousands of people are affected, as these facilities are unable to continue the services normally provided while the damage is assessed and repaired.

The cause of these fires has been divided into two major categories: confined and unconfined.

Confined Fires

Confined fires are those restricted to certain types of objects or equipment and limited in extent — such as cookware on a stovetop. They are easier to contain and extinguish before they get out of control. Over 73% of healthcare fires are designated as confined and rarely result in serious injury or substantial property loss, though there can be some property damage from smoke and water.



Cooking is the leading cause of healthcare facility fires, with 60% of confined fires occurring in the kitchen. The peak time for confined fires is between noon and 1 p.m. when meals are prepared. These types of fires are usually extinguished by removing the pot from the heat source, covering the flame with a metal lid if possible and using a Class B fire extinguisher, if necessary.

Electrical Malfunction

Accounting for 10% or less of all incidents in healthcare facilities, confined electrical malfunctions are those associated with the control mechanisms in small appliances, trash compactors or other equipment where low voltage wiring is present. The damage is usually restricted to the circuit panel where the operating controls are located.

Electrical fires are extinguished by turning off the electricity — only if it can be done safely — or by using a Class C fire extinguisher. It is important to remember that you should never throw water on an electrical fire — it will ignite the fire more, and you risk being burned or electrocuted.

Heating Systems

Fires in heating systems generally occur in the boiler ignition system where there is no damage outside the firebox, or they are chimney fires that stay within the flue. If the fire is emanating from an electrical panel, then use a Class C extinguisher. If the fire is inside a flue, it will usually require professionals to extinguish it.

Unconfined Fires

One of the marks of an unconfined fire is that much of the heat produced by the main fire escapes and spreads throughout the building through radiation and convection. This heats up the materials covering the walls and ceilings in the room and is reflected back to the fire, increasing its temperature.

These larger fires represent only 27% of all hospital fires but account for the largest loss of life and property damage. Generally speaking, local measures cannot contain these fires, and your local fire department will be required to extinguish them.

Electrical Malfunction

Electrical malfunction is the leading cause of unconfined fires, accounting for nearly 22% of all reported incidents. These issues can arise from problems in electrical distribution and lighting equipment and can spread quickly through the building, traveling along the wire path.


Appliance fires that start in clothes washers and dryers, as well as other heat-producing equipment, account for 8% of fires in healthcare facilities.

Intentional Acts

Healthcare facilities that provide care for those with physical, developmental and mental illnesses have shown higher incidents of intentionally set fires. These fires cause up to 13% of all property damage, 15% of personal injuries and 6% of all fires reported.


Smoke Guard for Healthcare Facilities

When measures such as alarms and fire extinguishers are not sufficient to reduce the spread of smoke and fire during a non-confined event, healthcare facilities need professionally designed systems that separate the source of the fire and smoke from the rest of the building.

Smoke Guard has developed fire and smoke containment systems that automatically deploy when smoke or heat levels reach set limits, removing the oxygen source from the blaze. This is accomplished by blocking airflow from hallways, elevators, atriums or stairwells adjacent to the source. This allows personnel to evacuate to safety while minimizing property damage until first responders arrive.

Our engineers can work with your existing fire suppression systems to improve their performance by adding smoke and fire curtains that not only block flames but can channel smoke to a safe location and keep it there until it can be diminished.

Contact us today and find out how we can improve your existing safety measures or help you design a new fire and smoke containment system from the ground up.