Fire Deaths in Philadelphia Are Up in 2019. So Is City's Hiring of Firefighters.

Commissioner Thiel addressed the increase in civilian deaths this year following the graduation ceremony of an unusually large class of new hires.

More people have died in Philadelphia fires this year than at any time since 2014, statistics show.

On Wednesday, the city fire commissioner addressed the increase following the graduation ceremony of an unusually large class of new firefighters. The 121 new hires allow the department to open up stations that have been closed since the Great Recession a decade ago.

Causes for the fires that led to the 32 deaths so far in 2019 include a lack of working smoke alarms, cooking mishaps, smoking and faulty electrical wiring, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.

"I don't know that this is a trend," Thiel said in an interview Wednesday night at the graduation of the 196th class of new firefighters. "We certainly hope it's not a trend."

"Tragically, some of those fire deaths are still happening in homes that don't have working smoke alarms," he added.

He spoke following the graduation for the department's 196th class of recruits. On average, about 75 firefighters graduate in each class, officials said.

Thiel told the new firefighters and an overflowing gymnasium of family and friends at Aspira Education Campus on North Second Street that the class is "historic" because it is the first that will help re-open at least four and as many as seven fire companies closed in 2009.

Four engine companies, Engines 1 and 8 in Center City, Engine 39 in Roxborough and Engine 14 in Frankford, will begin operations Nov. 23 for the first time in a decade, Thiel said. 

The companies, along with another engine and two ladder companies, were shuttered 10 years ago during the Great Recession as city officials dealt a budget crisis.

The 32 deaths through Nov. 13 is an increase from 19 deaths in 2018, 20 deaths in 2017 and 21 deaths in 2016, the department said. Those years followed a record-low 12 fatalities in 2015. Yet the year before, in 2014, there were 32 deaths.

Thiel said the department is working diligently to raise awareness about fire prevention, and that firefighters have installed some 40,000 smoke alarms in homes during the last 18 months. 

"For us, every fire death is an absolute tragedy," he said. "We're doing everything we can. We need everyone's help. As we say, fire is everybody's fight. So please, call 3-1-1. We'll come out and install the smoke alarms."

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