Fire-related child deaths: What do newspaper case reports tell us?


Ms B Kool, Section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. Fax: +64 9 373 7494; email:


Objective:  To describe the accuracy and public health relevance of newspaper accounts of child deaths from fire-related incidents.

Methods:  Domestic fire-related deaths of children aged under 15 years in Auckland, New Zealand, over a 10-year period were retrospectively identified from fire service records and the national minimum mortality dataset. Forensic pathology and fire service records were reviewed and this information was compared with reports published within 3 days of the index event in the region's sole daily newspaper.

Results:  All 14 fatal fire-related events (19 deaths) identified using fire service records and the national minimum dataset during the study period were reported in the newspaper with a high degree of detail and accuracy. Only four news items informed readers of specific measures that could prevent such events.

Conclusions:  Daily newspapers can provide reliable, useful and timely surveillance data on the incidence of fire-related childhood deaths. However, these reports often represented missed opportunities to disseminate public health messages that raised awareness of sources of risk and means of preventing fire-related deaths.