Officials devising methods to reduce fire fatalities in state

Published 7:32 pm Thursday, July 5, 2007

Mississippi fires deaths are on the rise, and officials are searching for ways to improve their fire prevention strategies and better coordinate their programs.

A recent summit designed to collaborate on fire prevention strategies instead revealed a lack of coordination and a duplication of efforts among local, state and federal agencies responsible for educating the public on how to prevent fires, officials said Tuesday.

Officials do not believe the lack of coordination has contributed to the increase in deaths, but the rising number is very frustrating, State Fire Marshal and Insurance Commissioner George Dale said.

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Between January and April, 34 people throughout the state were killed. Numbers for May and June are not available.

There were 70 Mississippians killed in fires in 2005 and 110 in 2002. Statistics for 2006 are not available. Officials said they believe some fire deaths this year have gone unreported.

Fire safety and prevention programs can vary between state agencies, independent associations and fire departments across the state, officials said.

“We discovered that the Board of Health is doing (prevention programs), other state agencies are doing something, federal agencies … and nobody knew what the other one was doing,” Dale said, referring to the outcome of last week’s summit at Delta State University.

A committee of fire officials will meet later this month to streamline fire-prevention programs, said Tammy Peavy, who was hired by the state last month to oversee fire safety education.

New rules and regulations will be established to provide more accurate numbers for fire deaths, she said. Local firefighters who handle their own investigations are not required to report deaths to the state.

However, “there needs to be a standard in reporting,” Peavy said. “If the patient was taken to a hospital and died there, that will be recorded, but there’s no way we have the entire picture.”

It’s difficult to know which parts of the state should receive more fire safety education, because “when we go to track these deaths, the Health Department doesn’t put down the county,” state fire coordinator Larry Barr said.

“We hope to eliminate that by working through county fire coordinators and fire departments to have quality statistics, so we know where to hit the training part of it,” he said.