Fire deaths rose in 2010

Posted: January 05, 2011

A year after the city posted a record-low number of fire deaths, the tally grew slightly in 2010, the Fire Department said yesterday.

Fatal blazes claimed the lives of 33 civilians, compared with 30 in 2009, while the number of people injured by fires fell from 237 to 201.

The small increase in fatalities came amid other difficulties for the department, which was forced by budget woes to institute "rolling brownouts" of fire stations across the city.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said last night that the brownouts, in which an average of three fire stations a day are closed on a rotating basis, are unlikely to end any time soon.

"They'll continue at least until June," he said. "We'll reevaluate it before going into the next fiscal year [in July]."

Mayor Nutter, Ayers and the deputy mayor for public safety, Everett Gillison, were slammed with bitter criticism from the firefighters union over the brownouts.

In October, the union scoffed when the city asked the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority to fund an outside study of the department's operations.

Despite the controversy, Ayers said, his firefighters "stayed the course. When the alarm bell rings, they get out there."

The Fire Department responded to 271,010 emergency calls during 2010, 223,265 of which were medical emergencies.

Both sets of numbers represented minor increases from 2009.

Ayers said that firefighters installed more than 16,000 smoke alarms for free in homes across the city in an attempt to drive down the number of fire deaths.

Fourteen of last year's fire deaths occurred in houses that had no working alarms.

Ayers urged residents who don't have alarms to call the city's smoke alarm hot line, 215-686-1176, and visit the department's website, www.phila.gov/fire, to complete a home-fire safety checklist.

The number of fire deaths is still down dramatically from earlier this decade; 52 fatal fires occurred in both 2005 and 2006.

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