Readers of The Boston Globe may not have noticed yesterday's astonishing headline on Page 1 of Metro, even though it occupied prime real estate: "Boston escapes '09 with no fire deaths." John R. Ellement did not bury the lead:
Last year, for the first time in at least 37 years, no one was killed by fire in Boston, a historic accomplishment for the Boston Fire Department whose leaders yesterday credited increased public awareness and “boots on the street’’ for the success.
Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser said 2009 was the first time since at least 1972, when the Fire Department started keeping detailed information on fatalities, that no one lost their life in a fire-related incident in the city. “We think that’s fantastic,’’ he said.
We spent a number of years working with fire departments around the U.S., promoting fire prevention education (the same program that resulted in the famous Dick Van Dyke commercial memorable for its tag line, "Stop, drop, and roll"), a largely ignored field until the establishment of what's now called the U.S. Fire Administration. While things have improved quite a bit since we trudged around the country, interviewing fire safety officers in such far-flung places as Arlington Heights, Illinois, Riverside, Calif., and Dade County, Florida, the U.S. still has one of the highest fire death rates in the world.
Why? Because our fire safety focus remains on public buildings, not where we live. And devastating fires do happen, even to people who are extremely safety conscious and have the right equipment installed, viz., our close friends who watched as their house burned down recently, the fire likely caused by a wiring problem, while firefighters lost precious time looking for the fire hydrant, buried under snow.
Perhaps this was a fluke and city officials knew where every other hydrant was situated...not the point I'm trying to make. Just want to laud Boston firefighters and the residents of Boston for a year of no deaths from fire. Truly worthy of a very big headline. Meanwhile, check your smoke detectors, know where your closest hydrants are, and be sure you and everyone in your family knows how to get out of the house if you do have a fire. As our friends, whose equanimity in the face of having lost all their possessions is beyond inspiring, continue to remind those who console them, "It's just stuff." They were not harmed and their loss allows all who love them to give in myriad ways, which makes us all a little larger.