Dealing with fatalities has become a regular part of the job for West Virginia firefighters. Sunday, May 4, a woman from LoganCounty died after a fire in her mobile home. According to the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office there have been 20 deaths this year.
“It makes you feel sad because most of them are so preventable,” said Squeak Peterson, the Malden Fire Chief.
Peterson has been a volunteer firefighter with Malden for more than 40 years. He’s seen the fire department’s coverage area extend further over the years, making it more difficult to respond sometimes.
"We run with Rand, we run with Sissonville, and we run with Pinch,” said Peterson. “It's going to delay response times, and on rural roads, you have to go slower.”
The State Fire Marshal's Office says West Virginia averages 60 fire deaths a year.
"We have a heavy population that smokes, we have bad winters, we’ve got all four seasons unlike some places, and I think all that contribute to it,” said Mark Lambert, the Deputy State Fire Marshal.
The top causes for accidental fires include heating, cooking, and electrical malfunctions. While having a smoke alarm is key to saving lives, firefighters say simple steps can prevent one in the first place.
"Have your electric inspected, have a lid there to a pan you're frying with, simple as shutting off a flame and putting a lid on a pan will put the fire out,” said Peterson.
Data from the U.S. Fire Administration shows West Virginians are 3.3 times more likely to die in a fire compared to the national average.
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