Preliminary report: 51 Minnesotans die in fires in 2011Preliminary figures from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) show the number of fire deaths in Minnesota increased 31 percent, from 39 to 51, in 2011.
ST. PAUL — Preliminary figures from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) show the number of fire deaths in Minnesota increased 31 percent, from 39 to 51, in 2011. The state’s all-time low fire-death figure was 35 in 2009; the high was 134 in 1976. The 2011 number is an anomaly in a downward trend fairly consistent since the 1980s.
State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl called 2011 notable in that six fires accounted for 17 fatalities. Three deaths were ruled suicide; 16 involved alcohol or drugs. Twelve persons died in fires caused by careless smoking or unattended candles.
Figures are preliminary at this time because fatality reports from Minnesota burn centers and hospitals are not yet final, and the state’s 791 fire departments are still sending data to the State Fire Marshal Division to be compiled over the next few months.
“There are several vital reasons we collect and disseminate fire data,” Rosendahl said. “First, cause-and-origin information confirms that most fires are preventable. Suicide and arson are rare, while carelessness, regrettably, is not. In fatalities especially, we need to note smoke alarm effectiveness and things like drug or alcohol impairment. Ultimately, we use this data to fight fire. These numbers contribute to state fire and building codes, and they also guide our public education efforts.”
While Rosendahl states that the only acceptable fire-death number is zero, Minnesota numbers do compare favorably to national statistics. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the national fire death rate per million people is 11.8, while Minnesota’s is 8.6.
“Continuing to reduce fire fatalities will require every Minnesotan to understand two things: how to prevent fires and how to escape them,” Rosendahl explained. “We must also accept the fact that no one is immune to the danger. Fire is opportunistic — it will take advantage of your mistakes, so you have to learn the safety rules.”