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How NYC Recorded Fewer Fires in 2016 Than Ever Before

Jan. 20, 2017

Decades of legislation and initiatives for fire protection have given New York City the structure it needed to achieve the fewest deaths by fire since recording began in 1916. 

2016 was New York City's safest year in total fire fatalities, according to the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), showing that successful fire protection initiatives work and can serve as a model for other locations around the world. 

The New York City Fire Department, the busiest fire department in the country, only reported 48 fire-related deaths, the lowest number since the city began recordkeeping in 1916. This represents a 19% decline over the 2015 numbers, and a 17% drop from the previous record low of 58 fire-related deaths in 2012. The FDNY also reported a 9% reduction in “serious fires.”

"We pushed ourselves to save even more lives in 2016 – embarking on a life-saving citywide smoke alarm program [GetAlarmedNYC] that has reached tens of thousands of homes – and we’ve seen the outstanding results with a historic 100-year low for fire fatalities in our city," saysa FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. "I’m very proud of all our fire and EMS members who worked hard this year to achieve this historic milestone, and – as we enter a new year – we commit again to doing all we can to protect, serve and educate New Yorkers to keep them safe from fire."

In contribution to the improved numbers, fire sprinkler systems have had tremendous life and property savings in New York City. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), water-based fire protection systems reduce fire deaths by 82% and property damage by 68%.

New York City Local Law 5, passed in 1973, mandated that all high-rise office buildings in New York City that exceed 100 feet tall have a sprinkler system or pressurized and compartmentalized stairwells. This legislation followed two fatal 1970 office building fires that resulted in five fatalities and dozens of injuries. That year, the city had 310 fire-related deaths. Since then, there has been a gradual and significant 85% reduction in fire fatalities leading to this record year.

In 1999, Local Law 10 was passed, mandating the installation of fire sprinklers in all newly constructed multifamily dwellings with three or more units. It also applied to existing buildings undergoing alterations or renovations with costs totaling more than 50% of its value and established stricter inspection and maintenance standards.

"Sprinklers have repeatedly proved to save lives and reduce property damage, even before the Fire Department arrives on the scene," says Patrick Dolan, Steamfitters Local 638 President. "If trapped in a fire today, a victim has only about three minutes to get out because modern fires grow incredibly toxic and hot in just a matter of minutes."

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