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Syracuse Fire Department hopes data can help prevent fires

Ellen Abbott
Sam Edelstein, Syracuse’s chief data officer";

The Syracuse Fire Department will begin using data to try to prevent fire fatalities.

The fire department will work with Sam Edelstein, the city’s chief data officer, to figure out an algorithm to determine what houses might not have working smoke detectors, which can save lives and prevent injuries. Edelstein says it starts with statistics showing the most likely victims of a house fire.

"Generally populations that have old or young residents in the houses are more likely to die in a fire because they need more time to get out of the house,” Edelstein said.

Add that to targeting city blocks or neighborhoods where fires have happened in the past, and the fire department will have an idea where to target fire prevention efforts.

This model is based on one used by the city of New Orleans, which officials there say has already prevented fire fatalities. It’s the latest in a series of data-driven programs in Syracuse that Edlestein says makes government more efficient.

"We could send the fire department out to go door to door to door. That would take a lot of time and wouldn’t be terribly efficient because some people already have smoke detectors. What this is trying to say, here are homes that are the most at risk of not having a smoke detector and people who are most likely to die from a fire, and go there first.”

According to federal statistics, three of every five home fire deaths are in houses without working smoke detectors. The year 2016 was a deadly one for fires in Syracuse, including a home fire in May that killed six people on the city’s northside.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.