By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
The number of fire deaths in Mississippi significantly dropped from 2011 to 2012, but it remained the same in Lee County and has risen slightly in Northeast Mississippi.
This year’s 62 fire-related deaths in Mississippi is the lowest since the Mississippi Insurance Department began keeping such records.
Two lives were lost in Lee County to fires in 2012, the same number as 2011.
Susan Bradley, 47, of the Birmingham Ridge community, died of smoke inhalation in a fire that also destroyed her house in October.
Information on the second fire death in Lee County was unavailable.
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney attributes the drop in fire-related deaths to an effort from the Mississippi Fire Marshal’s Office to instal working smoke alarms in Mississippi homes.
The fire marshal’s office works with community groups and local fire departments to make sure elderly and low-income Mississippians have working smoke detectors.
Since beginning the effort in 2009, $1,995,383,000 in Assistance to Firefighters Grants has been used statewide to purchase smoke alarms.
Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker said working smoke alarms are key in preventing fire-related deaths.
“If anyone is interested or feels they need (a smoke alarm) they can contact us and one of our inspectors will come by,” Walker said. “We also teach fire prevention in schools. It is a concept the fire service came up with – to educate adults through their children.”
Walker said if they teach children about making an evacuation plan, the children are excited to go home and share it with their parents.
Saltillo Fire Chief Mark Nowell also uses the Assistance to Firefighters Grants to give out smoke detectors in the community.
“At night is the most critical time – when people are asleep,” he said. “Often times people don’t wake up or smell the smoke because they’re asleep and the smoke overtakes them.”
Northeast Mississippi had 16 fire deaths in 2012, more than the nine in 2011. The highest number of fire deaths in the last five years came in 2009, with 25.
Nine of Northeast Mississippi’s 16 counties saw no fire deaths this year. Tishomingo County had the most with four.
Statewide, the fire death rate per year has been reduced by 35.76 percent since 2009.