Fire Deaths Declined 25% But Unions Call Response-Time Rises a Concern

Chief Leader - January 08, 2020


Year-end Fire Department statistics showed 2019 produced the sharpest year-to-year decline in the number of civilian fire deaths in the city for the last decade.

There were 66 civilian fire deaths, down from 88 in 2018, a 25-percent reduction. In each of the last 14 years, there were fewer than 100 deaths annually in the city.

The city’s deadliest year for fires was 1970, when 310 people perished.

‘Electrical’ Tops List

The leading causes of last year’s fatal fires were: electrical (15), cooking (13), smoking (8), candle (6), incendiary (6), car fires (4).

Six fire deaths from 2019 remain under investigation. Two self-immolations were also reported.

“The men and women who serve in the FDNY are everyday heroes,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “Their hard work and commitment to public safety have resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of New Yorkers who needlessly lost their lives last year. From fighting and investigating fires to providing outstanding medical care, I applaud each member’s bravery and service to our city.”

“This outstanding achievement is the result of our members responding quickly, working together to remove those trapped by fire, providing unrivaled emergency medical care, thoroughly investigating fires, educating the public, and inspecting buildings and areas of public assembly throughout the city to ensure the safety of the public we serve,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro.

EMS Runs Up

Last year also saw a record number of medical emergencies recorded—1,531,870—up from 2018, when 1,529,569 emergencies were reported.

“EMS responses fall into one of two broad categories—Segment 1-3, which include life-threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrest, unconscious and choking calls, and Segment 4-8, incidents which are triaged as non-life-threatening incidents,” according to an FDNY fact sheet. “FDNY EMS responded to 563,920 Segment 1-3 calls in 2019, and 967,950 Segment 4-8 incidents.”

Fire-union officials welcomed the positive trends but expressed concern about a spike in response times reported in September’s Mayor’s Management Report for the fiscal year that ended last June 30.

“We absolutely need to keep an eye on these response times,” said Battalion Chief James Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “As the city grows vertically and the population approaches nine million, the expectation is that the emergency responses for the Fire Department will continue to increase dramatically. Combine that with bus lanes, pedestrian malls, etc., [it] will all have an effect on response times.”

“We believe the City of New York still needs new firehouses and units to keep pace with the continued expansion of the population,” said Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “Fewer lives lost to fire is great, but we can’t be complacent.”

8 Seconds Slower to Fires

FDNY response times to all emergencies were up nine seconds, to an average of 5:15 in fiscal 2019. That represented a 25-second jump in average response time compared to four years earlier.

Structural-fire response times also saw an uptick—even though such fires declined the past year—from 4:20 in fiscal 2018 to 4:28 in fiscal 2019. Four years earlier, the average response time was 4:11.

The percentage of working fires that advanced to a second alarm went up slightly, from 9 percent in FY 2018 to 10 percent in 2019.

“In Fiscal 2019 structural fires decreased four percent and non-structural fires decreased 19 percent compared to Fiscal 2018,” according to the MMR. “However, overall fire company runs were unchanged between Fiscal 2018 and 2019 due to increases in runs to medical incidents.”

Faster in Manhattan, Bronx

It continued, “For structural fires, the biggest reductions occurred in Manhattan (down six percent) and the Bronx (down five percent). The main types of incidents that contributed to the 19-percent reduction in non-structural fires include manhole fires, brush fires and transportation-related fires.

Emergency Medical Service response times by ambulances slowed significantly, going from an average of 8:58 in FY 2018 to 9:22 in FY 2019. The latest number was a 23-percent jump from the 7:11 average four years earlier.

“Despite the department’s aggressive efforts to hire additional [Emergency Medical Technicians] and paramedics,” according to the MMR, the number of ambulances in service every day fell to 460 from 472 in fiscal 2018.

“To address these issues and reach full EMS headcount more quickly, FDNY plans to increase the size of EMT and paramedic classes for Fiscal 2020 33 percent (from 180 to 240 students) and 100 percent (from 60 to 120 students), respectively,” the MMR said.

‘Members Leave Quickly’

Oren Barzilay, president of DC 37’s Local 2507, which represents FDNY EMS workers, says low wages combined with promotions to the higher-paying Firefighter jobs were causing high turnover, which meant the average professional experience of EMTs and Paramedics continued to decline.

“We are not surprised by the increase of medical emergencies our members are challenged with every day,” he said. “Yet the department staffing numbers remain stagnant. The city hires hundreds of new EMTs & Paramedics every year, wasting millions of taxpayers’ money with no consequences, knowing that no one is staying in EMS under these non-livable pay conditions and inhumane work conditions. Our members leave this job as quick as they can.”

Mr. Barzilay continued, “People want to make this a career, people love this field, but making poverty wages leaves them no choice but to look elsewhere. The public needs to be wary of this, as lack of experience may cost them their life, as a majority of our members have less than five years of experience.”