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Fire in Minnesota: The people behind the numbers

Oct. 14, 2019

A firefighter walking in front of a burning home

Teresa was an artist. Todd was a computer analyst. Tom retired from the U.S. Postal Service after 35 years and played in a rock band, and Carter couldn’t wait to graduate from high school. Louise was an elementary teacher in St. Paul for 40 years, and Thomas was an iron worker. Rebecca managed a liquor store and loved softball.

These seven people came from such diverse backgrounds, families and places. Different ages, different jobs and hobbies. But they, along with 30 other people, died in fires in Minnesota in 2018. It’s a tragic thing to have in common.

They may be expressed as numbers in the newly released 2018 Fire in Minnesota Report, but they’re incredibly important numbers. The data may not show that Rebecca hated horseradish or that Theresa was known for the custom cards she made, but it does tell us how they died. It tells us about cause and location of fires, smoke alarm performance, whether they were accidental or intentional – just to name a few. We can learn from this data. We must.

For example, 27 percent of 2018 fire deaths were due to careless smoking. So we remind people to smoke outside and dispose of cigarettes safely. People feel safest in their homes, but 74 percent of fire deaths occurred there. So we teach the importance of escape planning and cooking safety. We explain how to safely heat homes in the winter, and we urge people to use and regularly test smoke alarms.

But civilians aren’t the only ones who suffer because of fire. In 2018, 245 Minnesota firefighters were injured on the job, and one – Firefighter Timothy Royce – died of a heart attack after responding to two fires. Because of the nature of their jobs, firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer, heart disease and suicide. So we provide them with resources, training and equipment that can help keep them safe.

Everyone who dies in a fire leaves behind grieving family and friends. And fire also causes millions of dollars in damage every year in our state; in 2018, the estimated total was $229,335,335 – that’s $436 every minute. It can leave people homeless with steep medical bills. It can destroy businesses.

These are only a few of the numbers featured in the new Fire in Minnesota Report. We hope it motivates every Minnesotan to change their behavior. If you take fire prevention and safety seriously, you can avoid becoming a number.