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January 8, 2014

New Hampshire sees fewest fire deaths in history

Education, prevention reduce state's fire-related deaths

It’s said that records are made to be broken. New Hampshire has just broken a record that makes State Fire Marshal William Degnan very proud.

In 2013, the Granite State saw the lowest number of accidental fire deaths in state history — four, Degnan said. None of those were in Southern New Hampshire.

“We’ve been averaging about 12 in the past several years, “ Degnan said yesterday.

There were 10 deaths in each of the last two years, including the tragic death of a 1-year-old child in a Londonderry mobile home fire on Dec. 20, 2012.

The previous record low was seven deaths in 1999 while the record high was 28 in 1973, Degnan said. The records go as far back as 1970, he said.

The fatalities in 2013 were in Manchester, North Hampton, Raymond and Webster.

Fire departments across the state respond to an average of 130,000 calls a year, including approximately 4,500 fires that cause roughly $30 million in damage, Degnan said.

He attributes the drop in fatalities last year to improved fire prevention and education, saying it’s critical to preserving property and lives.

“Education is the key,” he said. “Parents tell me, ‘If my child didn’t remind me to test our smoke alarms, we wouldn’t do it.”’

Local fire chiefs said they agree with Degnan that educating the public about fire prevention — especially schoolchildren — can often mean the difference between life and death.

The chiefs in Salem, Windham and Pelham also said that’s why their departments have increased their focus on how to prevent fires before they start.

“Our best educators are the kids,” Windham fire Chief Tom McPherson said.

Adults learn the most about fire prevention from their children, he said.

The chiefs said their departments spend a lot of time talking to children in the classroom and during fire station tours, stressing the importance of knowing what to when a fire breaks out in their home. That’s especially the case during National Fire Prevention Week in October.

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