Chief Leader - December 23, 2014by SARAH DORSEY
The East Harlem gas explosion in March helped push this year’s fire-related death toll slightly higher than in each of the last two years, Mayor de Blasio and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro announced Dec. 16, but the last five years still produced the fewest fire deaths in the city’s history.
As of Dec. 14, 68 people died of fire-related causes, one more than in 2013 and 10 more than in 2012. But fire officials noted that the East Harlem explosion, which leveled two apartment buildings after a gas leak, took eight lives. The department soon after urged New Yorkers to call 911 first if they smelled natural gas, rather than their utility company.
Gas-Leak Responses Soar
As a result, firefighters responded to nearly 18,000 more calls of possible gas leaks this year, an increase of 68 percent. It helped boost the total number of runs by nine percent. Firefighters and Emergency Medical Service workers will likely have responded to more than 1.6 million emergency calls by Dec. 31, the most in the FDNY’s 149-year history.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association also noted that firefighters alone responded to more emergencies this year, with a record total of more than 520,000 runs projected by Dec. 31. Civilian emergencies have increased by 45 percent since 1990.
In a press conference at the midtown firehouse hosting the elite Rescue 1 squad, Mr. de Blasio recapped the year’s biggest emergencies, including that very squad’s rescue last month of two window-washers outside One World Trade Center who became stuck 68 stories up. He praised the EMS workers who transported Dr. Craig Spencer, New York’s Ebola victim, to Bellevue Hospital, and recalled an incident the previous night in which a firefighter amid heavy smoke fell down an elevator shaft during a Bronx fire.
“And here’s the measure of the people who make up this department. After the EMTs got to the firefighter, made sure he was okay, cleared him, the firefighter insisted on returning to the fight against the fire, which is extraordinarily admirable,” the Mayor said.
Commissioner Nigro emphasized the huge strides made since his first year as a Firefighter, in 1970, when 310 New Yorkers died in fires—the most since the first records were kept in 1916.
‘Testament to Their Work’
“But now, that is truly a thing of the past,” he said. “That’s the testament to the brave and dedicated work of our firefighters, Paramedics, EMTs, Fire Marshals, Inspectors and civilians who are absolutely committed to the safety of our city.”
He noted that the FDNY this year started a new program to install smoke alarms in the homes of seniors and home-bound people. Two-thirds of fatal fires occur in homes without working smoke alarms, and a third of those who die in fires are seniors over age 70.
UFA President Steve Cassidy emphasized the increased work his members have taken on in the last decade.
“The FDNY has always been recognized as the world’s busiest fire department, but the rise in emergency calls this year and in the past decade-plus can’t be compared to any other period in the Department’s 150-year history,” he said. “New York is the financial, communications and tourism capitol of the world and it is a fact that New York City Firefighters are busier and more productive than ever before.”
The department is gearing up for its 150th anniversary next year, and will be raising money for fire education and CPR training efforts at the NBA All-Star Game and other events. It will also host block parties throughout the summer, in part to recruit new members.