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.
“We do a lot,” McPherson said. “I certainly promote getting into the schools as much as possible.”
McPherson said his department also assists with fire drills at town schools. He also said educating the public about fire inspection requirements can help prevent a potential tragedy.
Salem fire Chief Kevin Breen said his staff frequently visits schools and offers tours. Another important aspect of fire prevention in the last year has been notifying residents of multiple family dwellings, such as apartments and condominiums, that a new state law requires carbon monoxide detectors, Breen said.
There were only two carbon-monoxide deaths in the state last year — both in Barrington, Degnan said. There are usually at least three a year, he said.
Pelham fire Chief James Midgley said keeping the public informed about how to avoid fires is crucial. He said next week his crew will visit the town’s senior center to speak with members.
The seniors will also be asked to fill out forms to provide the department with any important medical information paramedics would need to know if asked to respond to their home.
Increased firefighter training can also make a difference in averting a potential tragedy, the chiefs said.
Breen said there is more of an emphasis on making sure firefighters and paramedics can respond to any type of emergency, including hazardous material incidents. Yesterday, his staff received a lesson in lifesaving procedures.
“It’s hundreds of hours of training per year,” he said.