Fire deaths increased by one-third while fire-related injuries rose by 4 percent in Philadelphia last year, although both tallies remained well below recent historical peaks, according to year-end statistics released by the Philadelphia Fire Department this month.
Meanwhile, the department made many major investments in its emergency medical services and 911 dispatch system as the city’s demand for EMS reached a record level.
Thirty-two people perished in 25 separate fires, with the most vulnerable age groups being the very young and the elderly. Six children ages 5 and younger died in fires, while 17 seniors ages 65 and older also died. The 32 total deaths represented an increase from a record-low 24 in 2013 and 25 in 2012. But the city recorded 52 fire deaths in both 2005 and ’06, followed by 47 in ’07.
Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer, who became the department’s chief executive last year upon the retirement of Lloyd Ayers, stated in the year-end report that smoke alarms remain the most-effective tool in preventing fire deaths. As part of its Freedom from Fire program, the department installed 7,815 ten-year lithium battery smoke alarms into 3,405 city homes free of charge. The department also installed 63 carbon monoxide alarms and 34 adaptive smoke alarms. To request smoke alarms and fire safety information, city residents should call 311, Sawyer said.
In support of the smoke alarm program, the independent nonprofit Citizens for Fire Prevention Committee raised $260,800 during the year to purchase alarms, as well as fire and life safety equipment. The Insurance Society of Philadelphia contributed $40,000 to that fund.
Fire-related injuries increased at a much slower rate in 2014 as the 176 recorded were seven more than recorded in 2013. The 10-year peak was in 2005 when 239 were recorded. In addition, there were 234 in 2008 and 237 in ’09. Demographically, young children and seniors were less likely to be injured in fires than older children and younger adults. There were just 17 injuries reported among those aged 9 and younger, along with 22 among those 65 and older.
There were more fires reported citywide in 2014, too. The department answered 49,646 non-medical emergency calls, representing a 10.6 percent increase from 2013. Meanwhile, the volume of medical emergency calls rose 4.1 percent to 243,949.
To meet the increasing demand for emergency medical services, the department restructured its EMS, appointing a new deputy commissioner and hiring a new executive chief of EMS. The department increased its number of basic life support units from four to 14, and doubled its field EMS supervisors from three to six. The department created a new class of employee, the fire service emergency medical technician.
In the Fire Communications Center, the department created the EMS resource officer position, which is to be filled by a captain, and implemented a new Emergency Medical Services Priority Dispatch System to manage incoming calls. The department added eight new dispatcher positions and two radio room supervisors. ••