Akron and Canton 40th and 41st on insurer's list of cities with highest home fire risk

Canton and Akron have made Hartford insurance company's index of "top 150 U.S. cities with highest home fire risk."

The insurer ranked Canton as No. 41 and Akron as No. 40 on its list.

The city it considered with the highest home fire risk was Modesto, California. Ohio had six other cities among the 150. Cincinnati was ranked No. 8 in the index. Youngstown was No. 16. Columbus was No. 39. Cleveland was No. 98, Dayton No. 113 and Toledo No. 122.

The Hartford said it each of the cities on its list of 150 will get $10,000 each to fund fire safety education for children.

More: Deadly rash of house fires in Ohio: 'We know that so many of these fires are preventable.'

Jeff Welch, an assistant director of media and public relations for the Hartford, says the company releases its index of 150 cities with the highest home fire risk once every three years as part of its Junior Fire Marshal Program to educate kids about fire risks. The first was in 2017 and the second in 2020.

Welch said the index covers all residential structures, including single-family homes, duplexes and multi-family units like apartment complexes. It doesn't include vehicle fires or fires at businesses.

Data crunched over three years

In the 2017 index, Welch said, Akron ranked 54th and Canton was not on the list. In the 2020 index, Canton was No. 72 and Akron was No. 33.

Canton Fire Division Chief Steve Henderson said several factors contribute to the number of residential fires that Canton has. For example, Canton has a high percentage of decades-old buildings with old electrical wiring.

"Typically in Canton the fires we are finding the more common ones are older structures with basically dated wiring. People using alternative heating sources in winter, cooking on the stove fires, smoking in bed fires. The problem is a lot of these homes ... don't have smoke detectors or they need batteries replaced or (the smoke detectors are) malfunctioning," said Henderson. The Harford index, ”it’s not a reflection of the fire department or the city. It’s just probably more the age of buildings and careless uses of electronics.“

Henderson added the city has also had fires set by vagrants trying to keep warm.

The Canton Fire division chief said that the city has spent tens of thousands of dollars the last three years on a fire education program to teach children about practices to prevent fires or mitigate their damage. That includes buying a thousand smoke detectors to distribute to residents. Or paying $5,000 for a bouncy house in the shape of a fire station to help teach fire safety to kids.

"We’ve even had kids getting on their parents not having smoke detectors or an escape plan because (the kids) learned it in school," said Henderson, who welcomed his department getting another $10,000 grant.

A message seeking comment was left for the Akron Fire Department.

Welch stressed that the index only indicates home fire risk for a particular city in relation to the others on the index.

“The ranking itself is all relative. You could be a safe city but (the) 109 cities below you are a little safer (in terms of home fire risk). It’s not saying (a city on the list) is a dangerous city. I wouldn't frame it that way and that's not how we frame it.”

Welch said, “It’s not an indication of anything to do with the fire department or response times ... or training." He said the purpose of the index was to generate interest and support for fire safety education and to help educate people on what to do in the event of a fire.

Welch said the Hartford's data analysts come up with the rankings looking at the number of home fires in zip codes for a particular city per a certain number of people who live there according to Census data. They then contract with a polling firm to reach people around the country online and poll them on their behavior that may increase or reduce the risk of a fire. Welch said at least 100 people in each of the 150 cities on the list were surveyed.

Questions on the survey asked people if they engaged in behaviors that raised the risk of fires or mitigated the risk or impact of fires. Had they left something cooking on the stove for too long? Did they have a working fire extinguisher? Did they regularly replace the batteries of their smoke detectors? Did members of the household have an emergency escape plan?

Welch said the goal of the program was to identity the cities where children best need fire education that the Hartford's Junior Fire Marshal program could target with the $10,000 grants.

"We’re trying to identify where the fire safety gaps are through this index," he said, adding that the Junior Fire Marshal program has educated 112 million children the past 76 years. ”Really the goal is to educate these kids so they become fire safe adults."

Reach Robert at robert.wang@cantonrep.com. Twitter: @rwangREP.

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Insurer: Canton 41st on list of cities with highest home fire risks