Fire Prevention Week recently came to a close a couple of weeks ago with this year’s theme “Prevent Kitchen Fires”. While kitchen fires, and more specifically cooking-related fires, continue to lead the causes of residential fires, we thought this might be a good time to also take a look at another serious residential fire risk – the flammability of upholstered furniture. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), upholstered furniture has contributed, at least in some part, to nearly 25% of all deaths in home structures in recent years. The article, “Hot Seat: A New Look at the Problem of Furniture Flammability and Home Fire Loss” found in the September 2013 NFPA Journal by Fred Durso, Jr., offers a close examination of this fire risk that has been an issue for decades. Not only has upholstered furniture contributed to many home fire fatalities, it is also a constant concern for firefighters. According to Durso, “….firefighters are battling fires that are bigger and faster than ever before. The polyurethane foam that fills much of today’s upholstered furniture burns rapidly and can lead to faster flashover for fires in homes.” Despite the concern, there is still a lack of national regulations that require upholstered furniture to be subject to flammability tests. Developing a national standard would help to ensure widespread and standardized testing procedures. Without it, it is impossible to know whether or not manufacturers are performing flammability testing.

Durso also examines a recent NFPA analysis and sums up the surprising facts in regards to fires that involve upholstered furniture in recent years. According to the article, these types of fires have annually accounted for:

  • The largest share of fire deaths of any first item ignited in U.S. homes
  • 480 deaths — nearly 20 percent of all home fire deaths — 840 injuries, and $427 million in property damage when upholstered furniture was the first item ignited
  • 610 deaths — nearly a quarter of all home fire deaths — 1,120 injuries, and $566 million in property damage when upholstered furniture was the principal item contributing to fire spread
  • 8,900 home structure fires

For more information about this important topic, be sure to check out Durso’s article online, where you will also find a few NFPA videos, including the one below of NFPA’s Dr. John Hall summarizing the white paper, “Upholstered Furniture Flammability”.


By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.