More News:

January 06, 2016

Commissioner: Philly fire fatalities fall to record low due to increased safety education

Derrick Sawyer also credits increased smoke alarm installations

Both fire fatalities and injuries dropped to the lowest totals in Philadelphia's recorded history in 2015, dramatic reductions the Philadelphia Fire Department attributed to increased smoke alarm installations and fire education efforts.

Philadelphia recorded 12 fire fatalities, a 63 percent decline from the 32 fatalities in 2014. Likewise, fire-related injuries fell 31 percent to 120.

"The one thing that we can do is make sure we get smoke alarms into the homes that don't have them," Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said. "The second thing is to educate the people on how to stay safe. By pushing that education information, I think that's going to help us get to even lower numbers."

Of the 12 fatalities, six occurred in properties that either did not have smoke alarms or had inoperable detectors. Three occurred in properties where smoke alarms activated. In the remaining three cases, firefighters were unable to determine whether smoke alarms were present.

About half of fire fatalities occur in properties without working smoke alarms, Sawyer said. In the fatal cases where alarms activate, Sawyer said, victims often are trapped in the same room as the blaze. Many times, the causes of those fires stem from open flames like candles or electric heaters placed too closely to flammable items.

Open flames marked the most common cause of fires resulting in injury. Smoking, cooking and electrical wiring also caused more than dozen blazes that resulted in injury.

"There's a lot of things that people do to stay warm that's not safe," Sawyer said. "If you remind them, they do a better job of not doing those actions."

The fire department pushes fire safety education through its Freedom From Fire program. Firefighters installed 10,639 lithium battery-powered smoke alarms and 45 carbon monoxide alarms into 4,168 residences last year.

The department also initiated a targeted Smoke Alarm Installation program, piloted for three months by the Seventh Fire Battalion, which covers the city's West and Southwest neighborhoods. The program included monthly smoke alarm installation drives and free home safety surveys.

Fire injuries declined by 90 percent in the targeted area. No fatalities were recorded in the area, which typically sees one to four fire fatalities each year. On two occasions, residents who received fire alarms from the city safely evacuated their homes after the buildings caught fire.

"We realized that in that area people didn't have working smoke alarms," Sawyer said. "If they had working smoke alarms, they could find a way to get out of the home."

The program is expanding this year to the 10th Battalion, which covers Kensington and Frankford.

"That's where we have a lot of fires and a lot of fire fatalities," Sawyer said.

The ultimate goal, Sawyer said, is to reduce fire fatalities to zero. He remains confident Philadelphia can continue reducing its fatalities through repeated fire safety education efforts, comparing them to a catchy advertisement. Eventually, he said, they get stuck in your head.