Deadliest fire month demands a plan

March 20, 2017

There are 11 days left in March and it is already the deadliest month for fires in Massachusetts in the last five years, according to state Department of Fire Services statistics.

Eleven people died so far in fires in March. This is a grim and intolerable statistic that can be reduced through a concerted effort combining technology, economic incentives and enforcement.

Fire has been a potential deadly threat for as long as human beings have existed. The tragedy of fire deaths in 21st-century America is magnified by the knowledge that planning and precautions can end fire fatalities.

Far too many fires are attributable to human error, including faulty electrical systems, careless smoking and misused candles. Fire departments, including Lynn’s, spend time and money ensuring more buildings have smoke alarms and more children learn fire safety basics.

These efforts are paying off and modern home construction methods help confine fires until they can be extinguished. But more can be done to reduce fire risk and avoid fatalities.

Fire departments should be given increased resources and responsibility for conducting fire safety-related building inspections. In some instances, town or city fire departments and building or inspection departments should be merged to ensure all available expertise is focused on eliminating fire hazards.

Two-alarm fire in Swampscott

Inspectors and firefighters often work closely to identify buildings where fire hazards exist in the form of inadequate fire protection, faulty structures and hazardous material storage. But landlords and building owners should know fire departments and inspectors will take steps to end fire deaths by accelerating and stiffening enforcement.

Insurance companies also have a role to play in ending fatalities. Industry representatives and state legislators should formulate policy discount measures designed to serve as incentives for building owners to upgrade fire safeguards.

It is expensive for a small landlord or even a multi-property owner to add sprinklers or point-of-origin fire retardant systems. But insurance companies can reduce costly claims filed in the wake of fires by providing significant premium discounts to owners who are willing to spend money on fire safety.

The last element of stepped-up fire safety enforcement is technology. All efforts must be undertaken to improve fire-retardant material and to develop fire suppression equipment suitable for installation in residential buildings as well as commercial properties.

Technological innovators only need a market to spur their efforts to develop fire safety technology. Improved technology combined with reasonable discount incentives and increased enforcement can represent a three-pronged approach to ending fire tragedies.