Mount Airy firefighters had plenty to do last year, but on the positive side many of their efforts were devoted to prevention rather than responding to blazes.
For the record, the city did have 15 building-related fires during 2016, according to an annual report of departmental activities released by Fire Chief Zane Poindexter.
That was down from 21 structure fires the previous year — considered an unusually high number for Mount Airy, which historically has had nine to 11 such blazes annually. Nine building-related fires occurred in 2014, for example.
“It was a more normal year for us,” the fire chief said of 2016.
While 2016’s structure fire total did exceed the historic annual average for Mount Airy, Poindexter said there were no common denominators or trends to merit special concern.
“It’s the same ones each year,” he said of factors that tend to cause fires, which can be mitigated by “being careful when you’re cooking and when you’re heating.”
There are signs that ongoing public education efforts are paying dividends, which was apparent last winter when the city weathered several bouts of extreme cold but generally avoided major fires from stressing heating resources.
“I think people are starting to take heed and not plugging everything into one outlet and stuff like that,” the fire chief said.
Despite that, residential fire losses totaled $501,240 in 2016, up from $214,700 the previous year.
However, the monetary loss from commercial blazes was $163,500 last year — down significantly from $548,560 in 2015, when two church fires contributed to the total.
Total residential/commercial fire losses in 2016 were $664,740, compared to $763,260 in 2015.
“We had some large dollar-loss fires,” Poindexter said of incidents at commercial sites in 2015. “This past year we really didn’t have a lot of that.”
The total number of incident calls for the Mount Airy Fire Department during 2016 was 1,736, including both fire and medical-related responses — the latter accounting for 1,060 calls. The department logged total incident calls of 1,644 in 2015.
Chief Poindexter thinks city fire personnel are growing more preemptive in their mission, evidenced by such efforts as smoke-detector campaigns, inspections and a variety of public education initiatives.
One he is proud 0f is a locally produced public service announcement regarding smoke detectors which was watched by more than 11,500 people when shown at the Creekside Cinemas and Earle Theatre last year.
“We’re being more of a proactive department,” Poindexter said, a departure from years past when there was more “sitting around the station and waiting for a call.”
“It was more of a reactionary type of service than it is now,” the chief added.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.