By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fewer people died in fires in New York City in 2012 than in any year since modern record keeping began nearly a century ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Wednesday.
There were 58 fire-related deaths last year, compared to 66 in 2011, according to the city's data, which extends back to 1916.
Bloomberg said the shrinking figures marked a continual decline in fire-related deaths in recent decades. There was an average of 140 fire-related deaths a year in the 1990s, and 278 in the 1970s, according to the city.
"With (a) record low number of murders and shootings and the fewest fire deaths in our city's history, 2012 was a historic year for public safety," Bloomberg said in a statement.
Last week, he announced that there were fewer homicides in the city -- 414 in 2012 -- than at any point since modern crime records began in 1963.
The fire department's ambulance service also broke a new record for response times, Bloomberg said. The average response time to life-threatening medical emergencies was 6:30 minutes in 2012, shaving off a second from the previous record set in 2011, he said.
Response times to structural fires increased slightly to an average of 4:04 minutes last year, compared to 4:02 or 4:01 minutes for the preceding three years. Bloomberg said this was due in part to the nearly 100 structural fires caused by superstorm Sandy in October.
In nearly 80 percent of fatal fires last year, there was no working fire detector installed at the site, Bloomberg said. Most of the year's deadly fires were accidents caused by malfunctioning electrical equipment or cigarettes.
Kat Thomson, the research director for the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, one of the city's main firefighter unions, said the statistics announced on Wednesday did not mention civilian or firefighter injuries, and in failing to do so gave an "incomplete picture" of the year.
The union also said the fire department did not say whether it met standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), including the guideline that response times should exceed four minutes in no more than 10 percent of calls.
"To rely on a single average response time is to paint a false picture of protection because there's areas of Staten Island and Queens that have disproportionately high response times," Thomson said, referring to two of the city's outer boroughs.
A spokesman for the fire department said it was unable to provide information on injuries and NFPA guideline compliance, as the FDNY's final report for 2012 has not yet been released.
One firefighter was killed in the line of duty last year, the first such death since 2009.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Gevirtz)