2019 saw record low for deaths caused by fire and drowning ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Estonian Rescue Board Director General Kuno Tammearu.
Estonian Rescue Board Director General Kuno Tammearu. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

For the Estonian Rescue Board, 2019 was a record year in many respects -- the number of fires and people who lost their lives in water accidents was among the lowest recorded, however, the year was overshadowed by the tragic fire in Ihaste, Tartu and the fact that altogether four children lost their lives in fires in 2019.

Altogether 43 people died in fires and 36 in water-related accidents last year, while the number of people who drowned was the lowest that has ever been recorded. The number of fires, including building, home, forest fires and wildfires, was also the lowest it has been in Estonia since the country regained independence.

"Fire and water safety continue to require greater attention from all of us," Interior Minister Mart Helme said.

"Life is not to be played with as a life lost cannot be brought back in any way. For example, a smoke detector has been mandatory in every home for 10 years already. It is a fairly harsh punishment to pay with one's life because the obligation to install a smoke detector may have seemed ridiculous."

When it comes to the people who lost their lives in accidents, one prominent factor is intoxication. Of the 79 people who died in fires and water accidents, 51 were intoxicated or suspected to have been intoxicated at the time.

Director general of the Rescue Board Kuno Tammearu said: "The share of people who lost their lives while intoxicated has increased, as has the average level of intoxication. The average level of intoxication of those who died in fires was 2.94 per mille in 2019, while the highest level was 4.9 per mille. This is a very worrying trend. Experts predicted that lower alcohol excise duty would lead to higher alcohol consumption and seem to have predicted correctly." 

Of the people who lost their lives in fires, 27 were adult men, 12 women and four children, all either 7 years of age or younger. At least 19 of the 43 people who died in fires last year died in fires caused by smoking.

The share of careless smoking as the cause of fires has increased both in terms of the number of people killed as well as those injured compared with the previous year. All those who died as a result of fires caused by smoking were also intoxicated at the time. 

A total of 36 people died in water-related accidents in 2019, which is the lowest ever result. "A change has occurred in the profile of drownings over the years -- while previously, the typical person to drown was young and reckless, it has now been replaced by a man over the age of 50 who is not swimming at the time, but stumbles or falls into a ditch, puddle or even a fountain. When the average level of intoxication is approximately 3 per mille, even the smallest puddle could end up being fatal," Tammearu said.

At least 60 people, including seven children, were injured due to carbon monoxide poisoning in 2019.

Closing the damper of a furnace too early caused the death of at least one elderly person and health problems for 19 people. "In several cases, rescuers were called because the portable carbon monoxide detector that the ambulance had with them went off. Had the ambulance not been equipped with this device, carbon monoxide might not have been detected at all since carbon monoxide does not always cause acute poisoning, but exacerbates chronic health problems at lower concentrations. It is therefore also difficult to determine the extent of the problem," Tammearu added.

Altogether 660 home fires occurred in 2019, approximately a quarter of which were caused by electricity, while the share of home fires caused by electrical problems has increased. Altogether nine people lost their lives in fires caused by electrical problems and none of the homes had smoke detectors installed. Problems mainly involve home appliances and wiring that has become outdated, while people also carry out DIY power system repairs.

Another challenge that the Rescue Board experienced at the end of 2019 was the storm that struck southeast Estonia. The crisis, which resulted in the Rescue Board receiving 1,000 calls over a period of 24 hours, highlighted development needs in the emergency readiness of both residents and local governments and ensuring vital services, like power and communications, in a crisis situation as well as the continuity of the volunteer rescue network.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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