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Fire deaths in Mass. at lowest level since ’40s

Public health efforts credited

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / January 27, 2010


The number of people killed by fire last year dropped to the lowest level in Massachusetts since

A total of 35 people were killed in 2009 in residential fires, car fires, and, in one instance, an outside fire, said Coan.

That total is a 29 percent reduction from the 49 people killed in 2008 and the lowest since the early 1940s.

“We are saving lives because of a combination of factors,’’ Coan said in a telephone interview yesterday. He mentioned installation of smoke detectors, the adoption of fire-safe cigarette laws, public education campaigns, better trained firefighters and paramedics, and the extraordinary medical community with special burn treatment centers in Massachusetts.

“I do think that there is a little bit of luck involved with these numbers,’’ Coan said.

Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the nonprofit National Fire Protec tion Association headquartered in Quincy, cautioned against concluding that fewer fire deaths also means the number of firefighters can be reduced.

“In this day and age, we ask our fire departments to do so much more,’’ Carli said in a telephone interview yesterday. “They are really our first line of defense for not only fires but all kinds of circumstances - car accidents, medical calls, to the more extreme of terrorism and other types of disasters.’’

According to Coan’s office, 17 men, 13 women, and five children died by fire last year.

The new statistics were released about two weeks after the Globe reported that no one had died in Boston fires last year, the city’s best record for at least 37 years.

City and union officials said the way they deployed firefighters, along with some luck, was the reason for the success.

Coan believes that 15 years of fire prevention classes in the state’s schools is responsible for a 66 percent decline in the number of children dying in fires across Massachusetts each year, and also has played a huge role in stopping fires before they start.

“When a young person has taken a lesson learned in a school environment with local firefighters and put that to use at home . . . there are literally thousands of fires that did not occur because of good fire prevention executed by families,’’ Coan said.

During the last decade, Coan said, fire fatalities have been in double digits in Massachusetts, a change from the early 1970s, when nearly 200 people died annually.

“We have seen a dramatic decline in deaths over the last several decades, and the primary reason for this was really the invention of smoke alarms,’’ he said.

In New Hampshire, 14 people were killed in fires, putting the state at its average for the last five years, according to state Fire Marshal J. William Degnan.

Like Coan, Degnan said he wants to push his state to embrace sprinkler systems in new residential developments as the best way to reduce the loss of life even further.

But there’s a political debate in New Hampshire that centers on the cost to home builders, he said.

“So far, I haven’t figured out a way to stop new homes from being the old homes of tomorrow,’’ he said. “So if we start now, we will be helping control future fire problems.’’

According to the US Fire Safety Administration, Massachusetts is one of the safest places to live based on fire death rates. In 2006, the rate for the Bay State was 5.4 per million residents compared to the most dangerous state, West Virginia and its rate of 38.7 per million.

“Everything seems to be clicking in Massachusetts,’’ Carli said.

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