Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend
Richmond officials working to reduce fatal fires in city.
On the same day a fire killed four people, including three children, in Chesterfield County, Richmond’s mayor and fire chief shared concerns about an uptick in fire fatalities in the city.
Chief Melvin Carter had scheduled Friday’s news conference before the tragic Chesterfield house fire to raise awareness of fire prevention after three fire fatalities in Richmond so far this year. That figure, in just the first quarter of 2021, surpasses the total number of fire fatalities in all of the prior three years.
“Our hearts and prayers and thoughts go out to the family that lost lives in Chesterfield today, as well as the brave men and women of the Chesterfield Fire Department and all the efforts they did to save that family,” Carter said. “I know well, as the members of the Richmond Fire Department know, what it’s like to give your all, do your best, risk life and limb to save others.
“The men and women of our fire department do that, the men and women of the nation’s fire departments do that every day and to be unsuccessful at saving someone’s life, particularly children, weighs heavily on their men and women.”
The city’s three victims, all adults, have weighed on his firefighters, Carter said.
On Jan. 25, a 57-year-old man was killed in house fire in the 3100 block of Baronet Drive, and on March 10, a woman, 69, was
killed in a home in the 600 block of West 34th Street. The cause in both of these cases was electrical, Carter said.
A discarded cigarette ignited the fire in the 2200 block of Royall Avenue that killed a 57-yearold man on March 16. Smoking is the leading cause of fatal fires in Richmond, contributing to four of the last seven fatal fires, according to the department.
Carter said living conditions
also contributed to the deaths in March. Both homes were heavily cluttered — Carter described them as hoarders; one had nine or more reptiles living in the home and no running water — making it extremely unsafe for firefighters to enter those homes, as well as difficult for the person who lived there to get out.
In 2020, Richmond had two fire deaths; two in 2019; and
none in 2018, according to data provided by the department. The national average is 2.9 fatal fires per 250,000 residents, according to a statistic cited by Mayor Levar Stoney, who spoke along with Carter at the news conference.
“That is obviously a big red flag for this department, but for the city, as well,” Stoney said. “Three lives lost is three lives too many and we don’t want to see another one lost this year.”
Henrico County Fire Marshal Henry Rosenbaum said the county has had one fire fatality so far this year: a man who died Feb. 11. The county had no fatalities in 2020 and one each in 2018 and 2019.
In Richmond, two other fires at senior living facilities this year have been “near misses,” Carter said.
Carter, along with Stoney, reiterated some basic fire safety measures that could prevent future fatalities: have and practice an escape plan and replace smoke alarms.
“They sound simple,” Stoney said. “But they can save your life.”
Only one of the seven Richmond homes where fatal fires have occurred in recent years had a working smoke alarm, Carter said. All the victims died of smoke inhalation, he said, though two had burns which were contributing factors to their deaths.
The RFD Prevention Office can install and replace smoke alarms for free. Residents call (804) 646-1526 to schedule an installation.
Carter said the fire department is there to respond in an emergency, but their primary focus is fire prevention. He said the department plans to intensify its prevention efforts through community outreach and programs with Richmond Public Schools.