Maine fire deaths hit record low in 2010

Posted Jan. 01, 2011, at 1:08 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine set a record for the lowest number of fire deaths in 2010, with nine fatalities attributed to fires, officials said Saturday.

The figure beat the state’s old record low of 12 fire deaths set twice — in 1995 and 2007 — and continued a downward trend that began in the 1980s and has continued through the 1990s and into the new century, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Maine fire deaths averaged about 49 a year in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, with the worst year for fire deaths being 1967, when 70 people died from fires, McCausland said. Records date to 1930.

Maine Fire Marshal John Dean said there are a number of factors contributing to Maine’s continuing decline in fire deaths — smoke detectors, better firefighter training, modern construction techniques and an increasing trend toward installation of residential sprinklers.

People are 50 percent more likely to survive a fire if there are smoke detectors and 97 percent more likely to survive if sprinklers are installed, Dean said.

“We are having more people install residential sprinklers than we ever thought there would be at this point in history,” Dean said. “People are finding that they’re reasonably priced and they provide their family with a higher level of safety than they’re going to get any other way.”

There was no all-time low for homicide deaths.

In 2010, the state saw 24 homicides including a grisly triple killing in the northern community of Amity, but the figure equates to the state’s historical average, McCausland said. That compares with 26 homicides in 2009, and an average of about 20 deaths a year during the past decade, he said. Detailed records date to 1970.

The year saw a reversal of a trend toward the majority of homicides being domestic-related. Of the 24 homicides, only nine were domestic, which is way down, McCausland said.

“That is encouraging,” he said.

It was a relatively safe year on Maine roads. Preliminary figures showed there were 160 highway deaths, which was relatively low but far off the 1959 record of 136. Since 1959, the safest years on roads were 2008 with 155 highway deaths and 2009 with 159 deaths. The state began tracking highway deaths in 1950.

The lower number of highway deaths over the past three years reflects a down economy in which people are driving less, as well as stepped up traffic enforcement, McCausland said. Law enforcement has been using grants to put a greater effort into going after drunken drivers, for example.

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