Philadelphia’s fire deaths were down, but its fire-related injuries were up in 2013, according to year-end data released by the city’s Fire Department on Jan. 2.
And while the Fire Department responded to an increasing number of emergency calls, the number of fire emergencies declined compared to the previous year’s totals. In keeping with a trend of recent years, medical emergencies comprised 84 percent of the fire department’s 279,019 emergency responses last year.
The annual statistics revealed other key trends. Among the record-low of 24 fire fatalities, 18 victims were at least 50 years old. Conversely, among 182 fire-related injuries, 110 involved victims ages 49 and under.
The department identified the city’s 24 fire deaths as the lowest annual total in recorded history. There were 25 fire deaths in 2012. Last year’s deaths were less than half of the 10-year high of 52 recorded in both 2005 and 2006. Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers credited the department’s continued Community Risk Reduction program, particularly its distribution and installation of free smoke alarms to at-risk city residents, for helping the department strive toward its goal of zero fire deaths.
“Smoke alarms continue to be the best method for early warning of fires, and Philadelphia continues to see a trend in the reduction of fire fatalities,” Ayers said.
The Community Risk Reduction program also includes other fire prevention and education activities conducted by neighborhood-based firefighters throughout the city.
Among the 24 fatalities, 11 occurred in properties where there were no smoke alarms or where smoke alarms were not functional. Meanwhile, a disproportionate number of deaths, 11 (46 percent), occurred during the eight-hour period from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The 24 fatalities occurred in 23 fires. Two deaths occurred in one of the 23 fires.
Age appeared to be a factor in the fire fatalities. Six people aged 85 and older died in fires, while 10 people between 50 and 64 perished in fires. In contrast, just one child or teenager died in a fire, and only six people younger than 50.
The annual fire-related injury total of 182 was 11 more than the fire department recorded in 2012, but it was 57 fewer than the 10-year high of 239 in 2005. The 10-year injury low was 147 in 2007. Among last year’s injuries, 54 involved people in the 30 to 49 age group, while 25 involved people in their 20s and 31 involved children or teenagers. There were 51 injuries involving people in the 50 to 64 age group, as well as 31 involving people 65 and older.
Open flame was listed as the cause of 39 fires that resulted in injury, while cooking mishaps caused 38 fires that resulted in injuries. Electrical wiring malfunctions (32), smoking mishaps (18), portable heater mishaps (13) and arson (12) were other leading causes of fires that resulted in injuries.
The fire department responded to 44,863 fire emergencies in 2013, along with 234,156 medical emergencies.
As part of the department’s year-end report, it noted the recent initiation of a new Priority Dispatch contract that “will provide an internationally tested [emergency medical system] protocol system for our Fire Communications Center to organize, stack and better manage calls according to patient needs.” The contract provides for new technology and software in the communications center.
Meanwhile, the Fire Department obtained a $16 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire 128 new firefighters, who were trained in Fire Cadet Class 188 and Class 189 at the Fire Academy. The department further obtained a $2.5 million Assistance to Firefighters Grant to further advance-level training and certifications for the department’s supervisors.
Also during 2013, the department created a new deputy commissioner position to oversee its emergency medical services. The department placed five new fire vehicles into service. They included Ladder 29 at 5931 Old York Road, Ladder 10 at 3742 Kensington Ave. and Ladder 18 at 2201 W. Hunting Park Ave., along with five Chevrolet Tahoes assigned to three battalion chiefs and two EMS supervisors. ••