YFD vacant house calls down for 2nd straight year

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For the second year in a row, the city fire department saw a decrease in vacant-house fires and occupied-structure fires.

In fact, the 100 vacant-house blazes firefighters responded to in 2017 represent the lowest figure this decade, according to fire department statistics.

Fire Chief John O’Neill credited the city’s demolition program for knocking down abandoned houses that have been a favorite target of arsonists as the main reason for the decrease in vacant-house fires. He had a similar answer last year when the number of vacant house fires in 2016 was 126, down from 195 in 2015.

In 2017, the city demolished 561 structures, according to records. In 2016, 541 structures were razed, according to Vindicator files.

And the fewer calls firefighters have to go on, the less likely they will be injured, O’Neill added. Last year, the department recorded 27 injuries – the fewest injuries in a year for the decade. The department reported 42 injuries in 2016.

“That in itself is a big plus for us,” O’Neill said.

As for occupied-structure fires, the department responded to 174 in 2017, down from 226 in 2016.

While not alarming, a cause of concern is the department’s average response time, which went from 3:56 of the first truck arriving on the scene to 4:06, which O’Neill said is still well within the national guidelines for responding.

O’Neill said he has instructed some of his staff to examine the data to determine why the department averaged 10 more seconds in response time last year.

He said it could be as simple as a new reporting system for firefighters to use when they arrive on scene, but he added he wants to know the reason for the increase.

For the fourth-straight year, Station 7 at Elm Street and Madison Avenue on the North Side was the busiest station in the city with 691 calls answered last year.

Overall, the department answered 3,123 calls, an increase of 109 over 2016. The 1st and 2nd wards had the most calls with 600 and 582, respectively. The 7th Ward had the least number of calls with 381.

The number of vehicle fires for the year was 100, which has been about the average since 2014. Capt. Kurt Wright, fire investigator, said the number of those fires purposely set has gone down as well.

Although there were a variety of reasons for those types of fires, Wright said the majority are set by people who want to collect insurance money.

“There was a significant amount of insurance fraud,” Wright said.

There was one fatal fire in 2017, down from four in 2016. O’Neill said he could not explain why there was just one fatal fire for the year, saying fatal blazes sometimes happen in cycles.

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