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Tennessee’s Fire Mortality Rate Drops to Historic Low In 2014

Friday, January 16, 2015 | 04:21am

NASHVILLE – The State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) announces today that fewer accidental fire-related fatalities occurred in 2014 than in any year in recorded Tennessee history, based on a preliminary examination of all available historic fire records and data by SFMO specialists.

State fire records show that 72 accidental fire deaths occurred in Tennessee during 2014 which compares to 98 similar fire fatalities in 2013. The 2014 figure represents a 27 percent year-to-year decrease compared to 2013, and a 51 percent decrease compared to 2003’s 146 fire fatalities, which was the highest total for fire-related deaths in the previous 14-year sample period. Final fire fatality figures for 2014 are still pending.

“For too many years, Tennessee has had a tragic reputation as having one of the highest fire mortality death rates in the United States. We want to permanently reverse Tennessee’s reputation for fire fatalities,” said Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “The department extends our sympathies to Tennesseans who lost loved ones in fires last year, and we urge Tennesseans to practice good fire safety habits throughout 2015.”

There can be fluctuations of fire fatalities every year, so experts measure progress over time by utilizing mortality rates of fire deaths. This method also takes into account population changes over time to measure the number of fire deaths proportional to a population. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported Tennessee’s 2006-2010 fire death rate to be 17.7 deaths per million which means for every 1 million people in Tennessee, 17.7 deaths occur annually. The 17.7 deaths per million rate gave Tennessee the nation’s 6th highest fire death rate. That has changed as new preliminary results show that the state’s fire death rate has decreased to 13.7 deaths per million, equaling a 25.6 percent reduction for 2011-2014 compared to 2006-2010. This is the single largest reduction of the state’s fire mortality rate in Tennessee’s recorded history. Because NFPA only releases rankings every 5 years, the next ranking will be in 2016.  

No single factor has caused the decrease of the state’s fire mortality rate. Instead, SFMO experts believe a variety of larger factors such as an increased public awareness of fires, fewer structure fires in 2014, more smoke alarms and improved outreach and cooperation between the SFMO, local fire agencies and communities have all helped. The “Get Alarmed Tennessee” smoke alarm distribution program perfectly highlights the SFMO’s strategy toward reducing fire deaths.

Begun in November 2012, the “Get Alarmed Tennessee” program is today responsible for more than 68,000 smoke alarms being distributed for free by the SFMO’s more than 300 fire partners in homes across Tennessee. Smoke alarms installed as part of the program have saved more than 70 lives so far.

A smoke alarm installation event will happen in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2015 when the Nashville Area Chapter of the American Red Cross and St. Luke’s Community House will gather more than 150 volunteers for the Community Fire Safety “Knock and Walk” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Volunteers will be knock on doors and install more than 500 free smoke alarms from the SFMO in homes in the Nations neighborhood in West Nashville. The event is made possible by a grant from The HCA Foundation and support from the Nashville Fire Department. State Rep. John Ray Clemmons and Rep. Harold Love are expected to attend.

“The No. 1 goal of the State Fire Marshal’s Office is preventing loss of life during a fire,” said Gary West, Deputy Commissioner for Fire Prevention. “Raising awareness of fire prevention and successfully working with homeowners and fire departments has been crucial to saving lives. We thank our partners in local fire departments across Tennessee and the residents who opened their homes to our teams and volunteers.”

An examination of records by SFMO fire experts reveals new data that fire investigators and fire prevention educators can use to prevent more fires and keep the fires that do occur from being as catastrophic.

  • Fire data tracked by the SFMO shows the cause of most fatal fires in Tennessee is changing. For decades, smoking was the leading cause of fatal fires in Tennessee (and the U.S.) but new research shows that cooking-related fires are now the main danger when it comes to home fires. Residents are urged to practice safe cooking habits when in the kitchen.
  • Based on reports from Tennessee’s more than 700 fire departments, there were fewer fires in 2014 than in previous years. There were more than 7,860 structure fires in 2014, which compares to 8,301 structure fires in 2013, 8,446 in 2012, and 9,572 in 2011.
  • Data shows that fatal fires occur at a higher rate in rural communities and fire fatality victims tend to either be very young or elderly.

 “Knowledge truly is power when it comes to fighting and preventing fires,” said Peyton Bullen, Director of Fire Prevention Programs & Policy. “The future of the fire service must involve analyzing data and trends to give us the upper hand for prevention and suppression efforts in our communities. Leveraging data and technology, we can provide the crucial information that can make the difference between life and death.”

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. More details about the anniversary will be available later this year.

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