DOWNTOWN — As the city focused primarily on weather in recent days, some good news from the Chicago Fire Department has been lost: Chicago enjoyed a record low number of fire deaths in 2013.
"It did get overlooked," said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford on Tuesday.
"The City of Chicago experienced 16 fatalities due to fire in 2013, the lowest annual total ever recorded," Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said Monday at news conference on the cold weather at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
Santiago said that with working smoke detectors, 12 of those 16 deaths could have been prevented.
Yet the record got lost in the blizzard of weather coverage.
"We were gonna put out a press release on it, and it kind of got lost in all the cold," Langford said Tuesday. "We're pretty happy about the [record]. That's pretty good.
"The closest we came was 18 in, I think, 2008," Langford added. "Before that, we've normally been in the 20s, and before 1993 we were usually in the 50-plus" range.
According to Langford, the highest number of fire deaths in relatively modern times was 206 in 1963. It was common for the annual number of fire deaths to exceed 100 during the 1960s and '70s, he said.
Santiago and Langford both credited smoke alarms for the decline, but Langford added that changes in firefighting tactics also contributed to the record-low death toll. Emergency medical services have also improved to the point where many are saved who might have died in decades past.
"No one really keeps track of the number of saves we have, where we bring people out from fires but were able to revive and save them," Langford said. "That brings numbers down, too."
Langford added that firefighting tactics now begin with a primary search of the scene as well, and that children — who commonly try to hide from a fire under beds or in closets — are now taught not to do that, while firefighters are trained to find them.
"Kids will get in a closet and close the door, thinking they're hiding from the fire," Langford said.
The Fire Department educates about 300,000 people a year on what to do in a fire, Langford said, most of them students in an estimated 10,000 presentations by the Public Education Division.
"Kids take that message home, and the parents pick up on it," Langford added.
"It all comes together, and with all the stuff over the years, the trend is showing that it works," he said.