City set fire safety records in 2012

New York City officials said Wednesday that 2012 was a banner year for fire safety, with two all-time annual lows: for the fewest civilian fire deaths and the fastest average ambulance response time for life-threatening medical emergencies.

The improvements were notable in part because they occurred during a year that brought superstorm Sandy's floods, high winds and power outages, city officials said.

There were 58 fire deaths in New York City in 2012, compared with the previous record low of 62 in 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said in a news conference. Bloomberg said firefighters, EMTs and paramedics deserved credit for continuing to improve their performance, as they risked their own lives to save others.

The FDNY's Emergency Medical Service shaved one second from its previous record-low average for the most serious medical responses, with an average of 6 minutes, 30 seconds, for 2012, the officials said. The previous low came in 2011. Those high-risk, or Segment 1-3, calls, include cardiac arrest, unconscious and choking patients.

With record low numbers "of murders and shootings, and the fewest fire deaths in our city's history, 2012 was a historic year for public safety," Bloomberg said.

He said demand for fire department services has increased in recent years "and despite a devastating storm that taxed the department at every level, we have continued to improve on our core missions of responding quickly to medical emergencies and reducing fire-related deaths."

Fire deaths declined 12 percent in 2012 compared with 2011, when there were 66 deaths; last year was the seventh in a row with fewer than 100, the city said.

In 79 percent of 2012's fatal fires -- and 46 of the 58 fire-related deaths -- there was no working smoke detector present; and seniors were the largest mortality group, the city said. Twenty-five of those who died were 70 or older, the city said.

The top causes of fatal fires in 2012 were accidental electrical fires (17 deaths), smoking (15 deaths), incendiary fires (nine deaths) and cooking-related blazes (seven deaths).

In fire responses, structural fire response time in 2012 averaged 4:04, two seconds slower than 2011, "due in part to the large call volume that occurred during and after Hurricane Sandy, when the FDNY responded to nearly 100 serious structural fires," officials said.

The ambulance response time record "was achieved by EMS despite a 3.4 percent increase in overall call volume -- and a record-setting 1.3 million calls handled," a statement said.More than 43,000 additional calls were received in 2012 compared with the previous year, including a one-day record during Sandy of 5,681 emergencies, the city said.

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