Fire Deaths Rise in 2020, January 2021 Already at Six
This year’s data is showing some alarming trends for a certain segment of the population. But there are steps you can take to protect your loved ones.
Lt. Kyle Clute with Grand Traverse Metro Fire says, “Michigan has always trended in the top 10 in home fire fatalities unfortunately. So there is a lot of campaigning going on to educate people about their home fire escape plans.”
It’s been a mild winter so far – but there is no escaping the numbers: there was a 21% increase in fire deaths last year, when compared to 2019’s numbers. Lt. Clute says, “Typically the months of November, December, and January are the busiest months in the fire service.”
There’s also a 13% increase in overall fires. Already this year – Michigan has had six fire fatalities, and most of those were disabled seniors over age 70. Kyle Svoboda is the President of the Michigan Fire Inspectors Society, which compiles the data. He is also District Chief of the Plainfield Fire Dept. in Grand Rapids. “They’re not able to make it out. And one of things we’re trying to stress with them is to have a plan in the event there is a fire, and have that plan specific to what their needs may be.” That message is targeted at seniors and those with disabilities and physical challenges.
Those six fire fatalities happened in five separate fires. And they’ve happened in living rooms or bedrooms. Fire officials say that may indicate they had no clear plan for getting out.
Svoboda says, “If you think about fire starting in the living room, they’re a little more open. There’s plenty of oxygen which fire needs, so fire grows rapidly. Even folks without disabilities can’t make it out safely. So we want to find that second way out. Go to your bedroom and close the door. Or if the fire is in the bedroom, when you leave the bedroom close the door. It will keep the fire from following you out the front door.”
Lt. Clute says, “With everybody still stuck at home or quarantining or being cooped up there, now is the best year ever to really go over your home escape plan with your family.”
Svoboda says, “Having a plan is probably the most important thing you can do, and secondly, actually going through with the plan. You don’t want to have to rollout that plan for the first time when there’s a fire.” He adds, “It’s all about practicing. You want to make sure it’s been practiced, that you’ve got everything worked out.”
Svoboda says don’t consider the front door as your only way out – you may need a plan B – like another door or a window. “Don’t consider your main door as your number one way out. You may want to consider a 2nd way out, maybe a window.” And in winter – make sure all your doorways are clear of snow even if you don’t use them regularly. Lt. Clute says, “The winter months, they kind of wreak havoc on everything from escape plans to even fire code. We could technically use this exit to our building all year round if we keep it shoveled, or if a snowbank isn’t there.”
Fire officials says many people “think” of a plan, but don’t talk about it and don’t actually practice it. Svoboda says, “Draw it out on the map, actually follow through with the plan and see what works, what doesn’t work. Prime example, if I have a two-story house and the kids are upstairs. How are they going to get out? What’s the plan there? Do I get a ladder? Simply closing the door and call 911. Let the fire department know.” He says families should select meeting point, and somewhere in front of the house is usually best. “We like to say meet in the front yard somewhere, maybe by a mailbox. When the fire department gets there we know right away, by talking with whoever is in the house, if there’s somebody in there still or if everybody is accounted for safely.”
Fire officials says no matter your age, it’s important to stop putting off a fire escape plan – and start practicing. “Actually practice when it’s dark at night as well. That’s going to give you a whole different atmosphere.”
2020: 122 Deaths in 101 Fires
21% Increase YTD Deaths Compared to 2019
13% Increase YTD Fires Compared to 2019
While cooking and heating are among the top causes for fires- smoking actually tops the list – almost three times more than any other cause:
Reported Fire Causes
#1 Smoking = 42%
#2 Cooking = 16%
#2 Heating = 16%
46% fires start in the living room, and the first five deadly fires this year started there – or in the bedroom.
Reported Areas of Origin
#1 Living Room – 46%
#2 Bedroom – 18%
#3 Kitchen – 17%