Rescue Board: Social issues likely behind growth in fire-related fatalities

Rescue Board personnel attending a fire in the Kopli district of Tallinn.
Rescue Board personnel attending a fire in the Kopli district of Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

From 2020, the number of fire-related fatalities in Estonia has been rising by around 20 percent per year, while this year's increase may be even higher than that, the Rescue Board (Päästeamet) says. The board says there is no clear reason for this growth in fire-related deaths, with underlying social issues potentially being at play.

Whereas 31 people perished in fires in 2020, in 2021 the figure had risen to 38, and to 46 last year. A little under halfway through the year, and the figure for 2023 is already at 25.

Rescue Board spokesperson Andra Väärtmaa said: "Unfortunately, we do not know the clear reason for the rise in the number of people who have perished in blazes."

"If we knew the reasons, we could take action to reduce that," Väärtmaa, the went on, referring to the board's numerous awareness campaigns, checks on the installation of functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and other fire safety measures.

Tarmo Voltein, head of the Rescue Center Western department prevention board says it has built up a composite profile of victims which demonstrates that the root cause goes beyond just the fire itself. "What is the reason that people get so drunk that they don't notice what's going on around them anymore, and also make fires indoors?"

Voltein added that many fires also occur due to electrical system failures as systems get older; "but the question is is this the result of a poor economic situation or simply an unwillingness to invest in one's own safety?" he went on.

"Via the project 'Kodud tuleohutuks' and the support of municipalities, we have gradually tried to make homes safer, but this is probably a small drop in the ocean," Voltein added.  

The typical profile outlined above is primarily an older man who is retired, unemployed or unable to work, and whose income derives mainly from benefits; who lives alone, usually in an apartment building, and who smokes and drinks alcohol frequently and has poor health. 

A total of 52 percent of those who died in residential building fires in the survey period were either drunk or suspected of being inebriated.

Of the 46 people who died in residential building fires last year, 23 perished in fires caused by smoking, nine in fires caused by electrical system failure, seven due to open fires, five resulting from problems with the heating system, and two due to other causes.

In only nine cases of residential building fire fatalities was a functioning smoke detector present.

By county, in proportion to the number of inhabitants, the highest number of fires occurred in residential buildings in Rapla County (over 60 cases per 100,000 inhabitants), followed by Põlva, Lääne, Saare and Ida-Viru counties (55-60 cases per 100,000 people). Võru County saw the lowest rate of cases.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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