Fire Deaths Hit Record Low in 2012, Despite Hurricane Sandy Blazes

By Jill Colvin on January 2, 2013 8:01pm 

RANDALL’S ISLAND — Fewer people were killed by fires in 2012 than any year on record, despite a slight jump in some responding times, city officials announced Wednesday.

There were 58 civilian fire deaths in the city in 2012 — four fewer than in 2010, which held the previous record — even though Hurricane Sandy sparked a rash of blazes, officials said.

"Last year, our city recorded the lowest number of fire–related deaths — 58 of them — since comprehensive record-keeping began back in 1916," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during an FDNY promotion ceremony on Randall's Island, where he noted that the city logged 94 storm-related fires in the wake of the hurricane.

In addition, one firefighter, Lt. Richard Nappi, a 17-year veteran of the force and married father of two, died in April while battling a blaze at a warehouse complex in Bushwick.

Officials credited the drop in fire deaths to ramped-up fire safety education, building code improvements and better enforcement, as well as more diligent use of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Bloomberg also noted that ambulance response times for life-threatening medical emergencies fell to a record low of six minutes and 30 seconds in 2012, a second shy of the previous year’s average.

Nonetheless, the average response time to structural fires stretched to its longest since 2008, increasing from four minutes and two seconds in 2011 to four minutes and four seconds in 2012.

“A few seconds may not sound like much, but on average, it makes an enormous difference in the number of lives saved," Bloomberg said, while touting the medical emergency response times.

Officials blamed the two-second delay on the large volume of calls logged during and after Hurricane Sandy, when crews responded to nearly 100 serious structural fires caused by the storm.

“We lost two seconds in...three days," said FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who added that the department had been on pace to match last year's record before Sandy.

“Make no mistake, we’re still getting to fires faster than we ever did before," he said.

According to the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the FDNY was poised to have its second-busiest year in history, responding to an estimated 495,000 calls in 2012 — up from 488,000 in 2011.

EMS also experienced a 3.4 percent increase in overall call volume, with a record 1.3 million calls, up 43,000 from 2011, including a new one-day record of 5,681 calls during Hurricane Sandy, officials said.

In nearly 80 percent of 2012’s fatal fires, there were no smoke detectors present, officials said. And more than 40 percent of those killed were seniors, age 70 or older.

The FDNY is set to swear in its first new class of firefighters in four years later this month.

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