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Preventable? City sees seven fire-related deaths in last 13 months

Rex Barber • Jan 29, 2013 at 6:58 AM

Seven fire-related deaths have occurred in Johnson City in the past 13 months, a number that is too high for a city this size, according to the fire chief.

Recent deaths include a woman who was found dead in a fire this past Friday. A man was found dead earlier this month in an office building. In December, a man was found dead in his house after a fire. Earlier in 2012, in two separate fires, three people died.

“That’s an astronomical number,” said Mark Scott, Johnson City Fire Department chief. “We want to make people aware, to motivate them to think about this and to protect their families properly.”

Scott said in six of those fire-related deaths, there were no smoke detectors in the house. In fact, firefighters, while checking for smoke detectors, find that many homes in Johnson City either have no smoke detectors or non-working smoke detectors.

“That’s your first line of defense to getting out alive is early detection, early notification that there’s a fire,” he said. “It’s the cheapest insurance policy you can buy. What we’re seeing is that a lot of people in this city don’t have smoke detectors, and their families aren’t protected.”

In the Tennessee Fire Mortality Study, released in July 2011, Tennessee ranked among the top in fire-related deaths for the years 2004, 2006 and 2007, with a mean fire fatality rate of at least 25 or more per 1 million people. Additionally, fire deaths among civilians in Tennessee increased in both 2009 and 2010.

Firefighters in Johnson City will put up smoke detectors free of charge. Scott said 349 detectors have been installed by the department since the City Commission appropriated $10,000 for the devices.

In the past month firefighters installed more than 200 smoke detectors across the city. More are on order but the money is almost gone for this program.

Some time ago, the fire department began placing smoke detectors in lower-income neighborhoods. This past year there was an increase in fire deaths in the middle-income neighborhoods, which has not been the case in years past, Scott said.

“I think we’re seeing dividends from the past in the lower-income neighborhoods because of all that’s been done there,” Scott said. “We’re starting to really canvass the middle-income neighborhoods with these smoke detector sweeps and we’re finding people don’t have them. It’s really ironic that that goes on because people do have the money at that point to purchase these.”

Scott suggested having at least one smoke detector on each level of a home and in all bedrooms. He said older smoke detectors should be discarded and new ones installed.

Modern smoke detectors have internal batteries that can not be removed and that last 10 years. This design eliminates the temptation to remove the batteries to use in other devices.

Scott said if anyone wants to donate to the smoke detector installation effort, donations can be made to the fire department for this purpose.

Checks can be made to the Johnson City Fire Department. The fire department’s administrative offices’ address is 603 Bert St. in Johnson City.

Call 975-2840 to arrange a smoke detector installation.

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