Preliminary data concerning the number of fatal fires investigated by or reported to the Office of the State Fire Marshal indicates 51 Marylanders succumbed to injuries related to hostile fires. This represents a 22% decrease in fire-related deaths as compared to 65 deaths reported in 2019 and is 6% below the previous record low of 54 fire deaths recorded in 2012. Thirty-three of the confirmed fire deaths in 2020 occurred in residential properties, which is an almost 37% decrease (36.54%) over the 52 fire deaths in these properties in 2019. For several years now, the annual average number of fire deaths in Maryland has continued on a downward trend. The annual average number of fire deaths recorded during the past 25 years was 71, 20 years was 70, the 10-year average was 64, and during the past five years, the annual average has fallen to 65. The highest number of fire deaths recorded in a single year over the past 35 years was experienced in 1988 when 129 victims succumbed to the effects of fire. Unfortunately, Maryland has already experienced four confirmed fire deaths in the first few days of 2021. This sad news reminds us that we must always remain vigilant and practice fire safety every day.
One of the significant factors in reducing the number of fire deaths in Maryland was a 2013 law aimed at reducing home fire deaths. It required replacing any battery-only operated smoke alarm over ten years old with a unit powered by a 10-year sealed-in battery. State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci emphasizes the value of smoke alarms, “The importance of ensuring the proper maintenance and use of smoke alarms is paramount. The materials used in products we keep in our homes tend to burn much more readily, thus giving us a very limited window of time to escape the effects of fire. These early warning devices can be the difference between life or death in an incident of an uncontrolled fire inside our homes”.
Additionally, the law requiring fire sprinklers in newly constructed one and two-family homes across Maryland passed in 2012 was bolstered by House Bill 823 and Senate Bill 746 that took effect on October 1, 2020. Maryland is currently one of only two states in the United States that require residential fire sprinklers in new homes. These laws will allow the Office of the State Fire Marshal to enforce any requirements relating to the installation of automatic sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family dwellings.” Residential sprinklers are in place here in Maryland; they aren’t going anywhere. We’re saving lives, and they’re clearly making a difference,” stated Geraci.
With the new legislation in place, the Office of the State Fire Marshal will be involved with fire sprinklers by enforcing and ensuring that each new home is outfitted with the life-saving technology of residential fire sprinklers.
Finally, the State Fire Marshal applauds the fire prevention efforts of Maryland’s fire service in constantly promoting life-saving information to the public during a time of a worldwide pandemic. Fire safety programs involving educational outreach are another proven way to help Marylanders learn to protect themselves from injuries related to fire. To survive a home fire, the State Fire Marshal recommends the following:
- Working smoke alarms should be located on every level of the home, in each sleeping area, and outside each sleeping room.
- Test smoke alarms monthly.
- Develop a home escape plan with a safe meeting place outside and practice the plan with all family members at least twice a year.
- Close bedroom doors at night.
- Once out of your home and at your meeting place do not go back into a burning home.
- Call 911 immediately.
“Maryland’s fire service, along with many partners in the public and private sectors, have focused on proven fire and life safety strategies such as working smoke alarms, home fire escape plans, and residential fire sprinklers. Community outreach programs that emphasize personal responsibility for surviving a home fire are consistently showing positive results,” stated Geraci. “I applaud the efforts of all who take on the role of informing Marylanders of the value of fire and injury prevention.”