"Comparing year to year doesn't necessarily show a trend," said Capt. Jim Hailey, fire division commander. "Fires and casualties tend to be higher some years without any particular reason. What we try to look at is a longer period to try to determine a trend."
A recent example of a statistical spike is the two-week period of Feb. 1 through Feb. 16 which saw a nationwide spike of 59 fatalities in single-family residence fires.
"You can attribute that to carelessness -- people get lackadaisical," Hailey said. "Fire deaths do occur but we can minimize them by following a few simple rules."
Hailey said the U.S. leads the world in structure fire deaths because people here think it will never happen to them.
The good news is there hasn't been a fire fatality in Sikeston since October 2003.
In 2006, there were 94 structure fires in Sikeston as compared with 88 in 2005 and 74 in 2004.
"Our trend is actually dropping even though we are fluctuating from year to year," he said.
Hailey said in 1999, the first year he was assigned to the fire division as deputy commander, Sikeston had a spike of 199 structure fires with the average being 170.
The drop in the average number of structure fires per year can be attributed to a couple of things, according to Hailey.
"First and foremost, the LCRA has had a big impact," he said.
The Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority has reduced the number of vacant houses in Sikeston, and many of the city's fires are started in vacant structures, Hailey explained.
Hailey said the creation of a city fire marshal position has made a significant difference.
"That is something the chief had pushed for for some time," Hailey said.
As the fire marshal works closely with the city's code enforcement officers, "safety codes, building codes and National Fire Protection Association codes are more strictly enforced," Hailey said.
Hailey said another reason for the drop in structure fires is citizens are learning how to protect themselves with help from the fire division.
"We have a much better fire education program than we had in the past," Hailey said.
The total number of calls handled by the fire division in 2006 was 896, down slightly from 990 in 2005 and 926 in 2004.
"We've done over 1,000 before," Hailey noted.
Some calls which aren't actually fires are classified as "good intent" calls which Hailey said are calls when a resident believes there is a fire but there actually isn't. The fire division fielded only 48 "good intent" calls last year as compared with 70 in 2005 and 77 in 2004.
False alarms also account for some of the total calls, some of which are maliciously false -- called in knowing there is no fire.
There were 113 false alarms last year of which five were purposely false; 111 in 2005 with seven of them being malicious; and 115 in 2005 of which five were called in intentionally knowing they were false.
Malicious false alarms are prosecuted, Hailey said, with help from E-911.
Many calls handled by the fire division are assistance requests such as a person in distress, smoke or an odor in a home, or assisting the police.
Hazardous condition calls are also tracked: in 2006 there were 169; in 2005 there were 107 and in 2004 there were 141.
These calls are not necessarily hazardous material spills. For example, 91 of hazardous condition calls in 2006 were for aircraft landings, usually at the hospital.
Last year, 320 of these calls were related to placing a fire engine on the other side of the tracks when coals trains come in or leave.