GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been a vexing problem for Michigan for years: How to prevent people from dying in fires.
In 2016, Michigan recorded 116 fire deaths, most involving burning homes.
“It’s more than just the fatalities. It’s also how do we address the civilian injuries and the firefighter injuries,” said Michigan Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer.
The answer to curbing that number seems simple enough.
“If we could have it where everybody gets the notice, everybody’s out of the house, we definitely – right there alone – would drive down the number of fatalities in the state,” said Sehlmeyer.
The success of fire prevention efforts varies across the state. West Michigan is getting it right. Programs like Operation Save A Life and Grand Rapids’ Residential Safety Program have dramatically dropped the number of deaths and injuries.
“There’s some great work that’s being done by some groups throughout the state, and there’s great work being done by fire departments out there. The thing we’re not doing… we’re not in every single community in the state,” Sehlmeyer said.
The state is now taking the lead in boosting those efforts via a three-year strategic plan.
A community risk reduction task force consisting of people from inside and outside the fire service are part of the effort.
The National Fire Protection Association, which sets standards for fire protection and prevention, is also lending support.
Part of job for the task force is to look beyond standard fire prevention programs like those taught in schools and focus on other nontraditional groups who need fire safety education.
“As we dig deeper into this… we may find out it may be senior citizens who are on oxygen,” Sehlmeyer said.
This is the first time the Michigan Fire Marshal’s office has taken a statewide approach to reducing fire deaths and injuries. Coming up with programs for more than 1,000 fire departments statewide, customized to the needs of each community will be a challenge.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” Sehlmeyer said. “It’s not a quick fix.”
But Michigan’s fire marshal says it’s a start.