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Towards a comprehensive understanding of human behaviour in dwelling fires

Owain Thompson



This thesis looks at human behaviour in accidental dwelling fires (ADFs), specifically the behaviours and motivations of those who survive fires in low-rise dwellings. Human behaviour in fire is a well-established subject area, but the primary research focus has been on behaviour in public, commercial and industrial spaces. With the exception of the identification of occupant-related risk-factors for fire fatalities, there has been very limited research undertaken to understand human behaviour in ADFs. This lack of understanding means that the frameworks, models, and other tools used to understand, explain and predict behaviours in fires are currently of limited relevance to dwellings.

A range of descriptive and inferential statistical analysis was undertaken on 419 occupant surveys collected as part of the LIFEBID project. This analysis has developed an understanding of people’s behaviours and motivations, associations between behaviours and select variables (e.g. gender, smoke alarms), as well as advanced understanding of risk factors for ADF injuries. A total of nine research questions were proposed. The study was able to answer eight of these; a lack of available data from high-rise dwellings prevented investigation of the other. The research findings have been distilled into five highlights and have led to the development of the Domestic Appraisal Response (DAR), a shorthand way to contextualise occupant behaviour during an ADF.

As well as contributing to clear gaps in the knowledge, this work has a range of practical and theoretical outcomes for both practitioners and academics. For evacuation modellers, the findings offer a resource to assist in the development of behavioural itineraries for evacuation modelling. For fire and rescue services, the findings are relevant to: fire safety messaging, fire prevention activity, incident command training and operational response, and emergency call handling. Importantly, this work has already resulted in changes to fire and rescue policy and practice..