Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lessons from Paris Apartment Fire in August 2005

When a fire broke out in a Paris apartment building in late August, 2005, it made international news because of the large number of children who were killed or injured, and because of the large number of immigrants who were living in the apartment house. The building was described as "dilapidated" by some, and there were reports of rats, mice and other pests living in the building, as well. Overcrowding and poor maintenance is being blamed for the high casualty rate at the building, as well.


The issues in this article are many and broad: proper inspections, required maintenance and adequate preventive measures are key issues. However, this article also points out the impact that social policy can have on emergency services. This apartment house was home to families who lived in overcrowded conditions, with some citing 12 individuals living in three rooms. The wiring was said to be faulty by some residents, and the structure itself was of questionable integrity.
Less overcrowding would have lessened the number of dead, but emergency workers are also of the opinion that most of the dead died from asphyxiation in their sleep, not from burns. Better safety equipment might have awoken these individuals, but without adequate escape routes and fire safety measures, it is not clear if additional lives would have actually been saved.
At the heart of this tragedy is the issue of how to provide adequate and safe housing for the poor. Although this fire took place in France, the issue is one that confounds municipalities in the United States, as well. According to the article, Paris provides "social" (subsidized) housing for approximately 12,000 families, but more than 100,000 families�primarily immigrants�are in need of such housing. In these situations, it is not surprising that overcrowding results as multiple families end up living together out of necessity.
The same is true in the United States, where multiple families will live in small apartments or even homes resulting in overcrowding. This results in unsanitary conditions as well as dangerous fire conditions. Landlords are often unmotivated to provide more than just enough fire safety equipment to meet local codes, and in many cases, landlords are willing to risks fines and do not even provide the most basic equipment.
EMS personnel cannot bring about social change, but they can be aware of those neighborhoods and structures that are subject to overcrowding and which may not meet local codes. In addition, inspections can be stepped up to ensure that buildings are brought up to code, or that violations are expensive to landlords so that it becomes more economical to provide a safe living environment than not. Finally, EMS personnel can engage in community outreach programs and educational programs to provide information about how to survive fire and other disasters to mitigate casualties.


Fickling, D. (2005, August 26). Paris apartment fire kills 17. Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 27 Aug 2005 from: .


  1. What happened in the Paris apartment fire was very sad. Fire prevention and survival training should be taught in all schools so that people will grow up educated about fire safety.

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