Oklahoma Ranked 5th In U.S. For Fire Deaths Per Capita

Tuesday, February 15th 2011, 10:45 pm
By: News 9

Dana Hertneky, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- FEMA ranks Oklahoma fifth in the nation when it comes to the number of fire deaths per capita. According to FEMA Oklahoma has 24.9 fire deaths per million people, the national average is 13.2 deaths per million.

"It's not good news. Oklahoma always ranks very high in the percentage of fire deaths in our population," said Nancy Trench.

Trench is the assistant director of fire protection publications at Oklahoma State University, known nationally as the West Point of the fire service.  

She points to a number of risk factors for fire deaths including poverty, lack of a high school education, high percentage of people with disabilities and population density.

"All of those risk factors add up and we find them here in Oklahoma," said Trench.

And that seems to hold true in Oklahoma City as well, as firefighters say a majority of deaths occur in the city's core where those risk factors are often highest.

"We will risk a lot to save a life and when we can't it's kind of like we lost," said Battalion Chief Cecil Clay of the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

Still Chief Clay said the city has been able to dramatically reduce the number of fire deaths by trying to make sure everyone has a working smoke detector and is educated about fire safety.

That's what Trench and her group are doing as well in rural areas.

She and her team of researchers have determined 15 Oklahoma counties are at the highest risk of fire deaths and that's where they're concentrating their efforts.

Trench said it seems to be working. She said there are five homes where they installed smoke alarms and there was a fire and everyone got out safely.

Chief Clay also said changes in building codes has also made a big difference in decreasing the number of fire deaths in the city.

FEMA said nationally 52 percent of all child fire deaths involve children under the age of four.