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OKC firefighters address fire deaths


Oklahoma City firefighters are attacking a spike in fire deaths with renewed vigor.

"We want to be part of the solution," Scott Van Horn, the firefighters' local president, said Tuesday.

Oklahoma City has counted 13 deaths in structure fires since Jan. 1.

At that rate, the fire department would far exceed its goal of holding fire deaths at or below the national average of 1.05 per 100,000 residents annually.

Fire officials say working smoke alarms are the most reliable defense against fire fatalities.

In his budget presentation Tuesday, Chief Richard Kelley told the city council that, in every structure fire fatality this year, no working smoke alarm was found.

In response, the department has stepped up Project Life, the program in which firefighters deliver and install smoke alarms free of charge.

The devices have 10-year batteries, providing a long-lasting margin of safety.

Department statistics show Project Life provided 3,255 smoke alarms in 2016 and 3,664 in 2017.

Firefighters have tripled the pace in 2018.

"We've been able to install almost 3,600 in just four months," Kelley said. "We're focused on that area. We believe in it. We know we save lives with smoke alarms."

Deaths this year included three people killed Jan. 13 in a fire that destroyed a boarded-up house at 218 N Blackwelder Ave. Neighbors had reported seeing people come and go.

Two boys, ages 2 and 3, died of injuries suffered in a house fire April 14 at 1029 NE 28.

Kelley said a hotline has been established for residents who need smoke alarms.

The number is 316-BEEP, or 316-2337. Information also is available at

"This is one area that we've been challenged with this year," Kelley said. "We're trying to address that head-on. We have not taken this lightly."

He said efforts include a partnership with the Red Cross in which volunteers canvass neighborhoods, doing safety assessments and identifying residents needing smoke alarms.

The city Planning Department has worked up maps of residences built before November 1997, when codes were changed to require smoke alarms in new residential construction.

Van Horn said firefighters in the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 157 are working with fire administration in an attempt to reverse this year's troubled start.

Van Horn said the number of deaths over the winter is a prime example of why it is "inexcusable in this day and age for people not to have a smoke detector."

William Crum

OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman. Read more ›