City can still do more to reduce fire deaths

Congratulations to Baltimore City on achieving an historic low in the number of fire deaths in 2012 ("Baltimore fire deaths reached historic low in 2012," Jan. 2). This accomplishment is a testament to the commitment of Baltimore City's Fire Department to ensuring city homes are protected by working smoke alarms and that firefighters and EMS can respond effectively in the event of a fire.

Unfortunately, juxtaposed to this success was the report of the first fatal fire for 2013, which killed two people ("Two die in Northeast Baltimore house fire," Jan. 3). We must do more to support the fire department in efforts to achieve Chief James Clack's vision zero for fire deaths, a goal we wholeheartedly share.

There are many ways to reduce the devastating effects of residential fires. New 10-year battery smoke alarms are available, which require less maintenance for residents. Our research found that more of these smoke alarms can be installed when community health workers and community organizations partner with firefighters to promote home safety in their neighborhoods.

Better quality housing can also reduce the number of fires in city homes. Vacant houses substantially increase the risk of house fires in adjacent properties, and residents living in substandard housing are more likely to not having working smoke alarms.

Maryland and Baltimore have been at the forefront of supporting fire prevention technologies. All cigarettes sold in Maryland are now "fire-safe," which reduces the risk of igniting furniture and clothing, formerly the primary cause of fatal house fires. Thanks to the leadership of the City Council, Baltimore is the largest city in the country to require residential sprinklers in all new single family homes. Extending this mandate to include properties being renovated would go a long way toward meeting the zero fire death goal.

Andrea Gielen, Baltimore

The writer is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.

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