AP

Fires becoming deadlier as firefighter recruitment wanes

Jan 11, 2023, 10:25 PM | Updated: Jan 12, 2023, 12:32 pm

FILE - A memorial for the victims of an apartment building fire is displayed in front of the buildi...

FILE - A memorial for the victims of an apartment building fire is displayed in front of the building in the Bronx borough of New York, Jan. 13, 2022. Fires feeding off modern materials found in people's homes are burning faster and becoming more deadly at the same time that fire departments across the country are struggling to retain and recruit firefighters, officials said Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fires feeding off modern materials found in people’s homes are burning faster and becoming deadlier at the same time that fire departments across the country are struggling to retain and recruit firefighters, officials said Thursday.

Officials with various firefighting-related agencies were in Washington to call attention to fire-related problems roughly a year after two deadly fires days apart in 2022 — one in Philadelphia and one in New York — killed 29 people. They’re also recommending a number of ways to deal with the problem.

Last year nearly 2,500 people died as a result of fires, including 96 firefighters, according to U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell. More than 1 million structures caught fire and more than 7.5 million acres burned in wildfires last year, she said.

“America is still burning,” she said.

The number of fires being reported to fire departments has been going down, said Steve Kerber, the Vice President and Executive Director of the Fire Safety Research Institute, but the fires that do happen are fueled by greater use of synthetic materials in everyday items like couches and as a result burn much more quickly. Faster fires lessen the time residents can escape and fire departments can respond, Kerber said. Over the last decade fire deaths have increased by 30%, he said.

Decades ago it would likely take half an hour for a room to be completely consumed with fire, he said. But now, with materials widely used in homes, that can happen in as little as three minutes. At the same time, Americans are increasingly bringing into their homes things like scooters or electric bikes that use lithium ion batteries. If one of those is damaged and starts to burn it can become an explosive fire in seconds, he said.

“Today you have the least amount of time to safely exit your home than any time in history,” Kerber said.

At the same time, volunteer and paid fire departments around the country are struggling to retain or recruit firefighters.

Eric Bernard, board of the National Volunteer Fire Council and a volunteer firefighter in Maryland, said many volunteer fire organizations in big states such as Pennsylvania or New York have seen a steady decline in members since the 1980s. But since the pandemic there has been a “massive” drop in people who want to join both volunteer and career fire departments, he said, and more firefighters are retiring. Bernard attributed that to the stress of going on calls during the pandemic, when firefighters would often be the ones going into the homes of very sick patients and taking them to the hospital.

“That fatigue and that exhaustion physically, mentally, has caused many of the career people to retire, retire early,” Bernard said, adding, “We have health issues, mental health, post-traumatic stress and members that catch COVID.”

Bernard said fire departments also struggle to recruit women and more diverse applicants into their ranks.

Fire officials are making a number of recommendations to solve the problems, including creating an apprenticeship program to address the firefighter shortages and help diversify the ranks of firefighters; helping prepare and equip all firefighters to deal with wildfires driven by climate change; implementing and enforcing building codes; and making sure affordable housing meets safety standards. They’re also advocating for suicide prevention initiatives and a comprehensive strategy to battle cancer in firefighters.

__

Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

moore redmond washington...

Associated Press

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Redmond couple challenging foreign income tax

The court ruled in the case of Charles and Kathleen Moore, of Redmond, Washington after they previously challenged a $15,000 tax bill.

5 days ago

Image:The New York Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. M...

Associated Press

Willie Mays, Giants’ electrifying ‘Say Hey Kid,’ dies at 93

Willie Mays, whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest players, has died. He was 93.

7 days ago

Image: This photo provided by the Washington Department of Ecology shows a derailed BNSF train on t...

Associated Press

Judge orders BNSF to pay Washington tribe nearly $400M for trespassing with oil trains

BNSF Railway must pay the sum to a Native American tribe in Washington after it ran 100-car trains with crude oil on the tribe's reservation.

8 days ago

Photo: In this photo provided by Tieanna Joseph Cade, an amusement park ride is shown stuck with 30...

Associated Press

Crews rescue 28 people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride

Emergency crews in Oregon rescued 28 people after they were stuck dangling upside down high on a ride at a century-old amusement park.

8 days ago

juneteenth shooting texas...

Associated Press

2 killed and 6 wounded in shooting during a Juneteenth celebration in a Texas park

A shooting in a Texas park left two people dead and six wounded, including two children, on Saturday, authorities said.

9 days ago

Photo: Israeli soldiers drive a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, Wednesday, J...

Jack Jeffery, The Associated Press

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza in deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months

An explosion in Gaza killed eight Israeli soldiers, the military said Saturday, making it the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.

10 days ago

Fires becoming deadlier as firefighter recruitment wanes