MAFD recognized for zero fire deaths in city

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

September 27, 2013

There are streaks in sports, but other streaks are a matter of life and death — with the Mount Airy Fire Department’s record in that regard earning it national recognition.

The department has received a Life Safety Achievement Award for its fire-prevention accomplishments in 2012. It was bestowed by the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) Fire Research and Education Foundation in partnership with Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co.

“Our fire deaths were zero last year — that was one of the key factors,” city Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said of the criteria for the award. “Also coupled with all of the public education programs we were a part of,” he said.

But the “streak” of zero fatalities last year is only part of the story. No fire-related deaths have occurred in the city limits of Mount Airy for about 20 years. “I think it was in the early 1990s — around 1993 or ‘94,” Poindexter said.

The Mount Airy department was one of 117 around the nation to receive the Life Safety Achievement Award. Departments that reduced fire deaths in their jurisdictions by at least 10 percent in 2012 were eligible for it as well as those with no fatalities recorded.

Poindexter said the zero-fatality record in Mount Airy goes hand in hand with vigorous fire-prevention efforts in recent years.

This has included safety programs initiated in local schools, talks at retirement centers, training in fire extinguisher use and CPR, truck demonstrations, fire station tours and other awareness efforts. One he mentioned was the appearance of Freddy the Fire Truck each October at the Autumn Leaves Festival, which attracts children and helps them understand the role of the fire department.

“I had to list all the public interactions we had,” the chief said of information required to be submitted for consideration for the national award. A committee evaluated the efforts of departments across the U.S. and selected the award recipients, which were required to document active and effective fire-prevention programs along with a clear commitment to lessen house fires in their communities.

Since 1994, the Life Safety Achievement Award has recognized local prevention efforts that have contributed to reducing the number of lives lost in residential fires. Although these account for only 20 percent of all blazes in the country, they result in 80 percent of all fire deaths, a number the NASFM Fire Research and Education Foundation is committed to reducing.

“I was really proud to get that announcement,” Poindexter said of the award notification. “I thought we were very deserving of it.”

A team approach has been instrumental in achieving the national recognition, the chief said. “The cumulative effort of the guys and the folks on our staff, from administrative assistant all the way up to the captain level and assistant chief — it’s just a cooperative effort with everyone in getting this done.”

The Mount Airy Fire Department has about 40 members, including full- and part-time personnel and reservists.

Poindexter said one of his main goals since becoming the city’s fire chief in July 2010 is public education, or being proactive with regard to preventing fires before they happen.

“Because the fire service itself is inherently reactive,” Poindexter added, he has sought to maintain the opposite stance with the Mount Airy Fire Department. “We’ve been extremely proactive in our community.”

“Prevention and education are very cost-effective compared to the traditional approach of relying on fire suppression,” NASFM Fire Research and Education Foundation President J. William Degnan said in a statement.

“The Life Safety Achievement Award recognizes fire departments for their fire-prevention efforts and encourages them to continually improve upon those efforts.”

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