Last year closed with the fewest fire deaths in Maryland in more than 20 years and a record low for the city. Both totals were a significant drop from 1995 statistics.
Twelve counties, including Howard, had no fire deaths.
Last year, 60 fire deaths occurred in Maryland, compared with 184 deaths in 1975, when statewide statistics first were tracked. Baltimore's total last year dropped to 22, two fewer than in 1938, when recordkeeping in the city began.
In 1995, 95 fire deaths occurred statewide, 38 of them in the city.
State and city officials attribute the decrease to education campaigns, free smoke-detector programs and fire safety laws that require detectors in every residence and automatic sprinkler systems in new apartments, condominiums and townhouses.
"We believe all of these things in concert have helped lead to this reduction," W. Faron Taylor, deputy state fire marshal, said last week. "We've actually seen the benefit of our work. Over 20 years of data shows that we've been successful."
Seven people have died in fires in the city this year, while at this point last year two deaths had occurred.
"We're certainly going to make every attempt to improve on  numbers this year," said Hector L. Torres, battalion chief and public information officer for the city Fire Department. "We'll hopefully get back on track here."
According to Torres, all the fire fatalities this year have occurred in buildings without smoke detectors or with detectors lacking working batteries.
"To date, most of the time when we see a fire fatality, it's a case where someone did not have a smoke detector in place," he said.
The state and city have fire safety programs and smoke-detector giveaways. The city Fire Department has been trying to ensure that residents have properly installed smoke detectors since 1994, after two fires killed 16 people.
Since then, more than 30,000 detectors, most of them donated by area corporations, have been given to city residents and installed by firefighters, who educated recipients about maintaining the warning devices. "The program has actually grown," Torres said. "We've never turned anybody away."
Pub Date: 2/03/97