Help emergency crews with clear address labels, residents urged

April 06, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Fire officials are asking Howard residents to add a new feature to their spring outdoor home improvements: address labels emergency workers can quickly identify.

That simple precaution, they say, can improve 911 emergency response time and ultimately save a life.

"When we're rolling down the road and there's a fire burning out the window, we can find that," said Sgt. Dennis Beard, county fire education specialist. "But if someone is lying on the kitchen floor having a heart attack, we're not going to know."

Police, firefighters and ambulance crews have always been frustrated by obscured house numbers or, worse, houses without address numbers.

Each day, county fire-rescue teams respond to about 50 incidents and police handle 240 calls.

"It's difficult for officers to respond based on guessing house numbers," said police spokesman Sgt. Steven Keller.

Emergency officials say the problem is nationwide.

Sergeant Beard said a standard for displaying residential address numbers would help. "With the weather breaking, people are sprucing up their homes from the winter months. Now's the time to check on the house numbers," he said. "A lot of people don't think about this until they have an emergency. And that's too late."

To test the visibility of house numbers, residents are advised to sit in a vehicle in front of the home and see whether they can read the numbers. Numbers should be at least 3 inches high for residences and 6 inches high for apartment, commercial and industrial buildings.

It helps to use plain, block numerals that are reflective. They should be posted at several places, but not painted on the curb where cars can block them.

A police officer looking for a domestic dispute or other incident might get confused if the numbers are small or hidden by bushes. Other problems include numbers painted to match the house, weather-beaten numerals, missing or chipped numerals, and the absence of numbered addresses for some rural homes.

Crews also have been thrown off by such things as gold-colored numbers on white houses and numerals that aren't in a plain style. Safety is more important than aesthetics, said Sgt. Robert Wiseman of Howard's fire and rescue department.

"It might look nice, but it's real difficult for us, especially when you're going down the road and have to read quickly." he said. "You use the process of elimination. If you can't read [the house number], you drive by. If the next one is too high, you think it must have been the other one before. Then you've got to back up."

Apartment and townhouse communities usually rely on a cluster of mailboxes, which makes things easy for the mail carrier but not for firefighters or police, Sergeant Wiseman said.

Officials say houses that sit off the road should have a mailbox or other structure close to the street bearing the address.

That technique is more precise than having excited pedestrians flagging down speeding response teams like some hailing a taxi, officials say.

Much of the problem centers on people's outlook, emergency officials say. Most people give more attention to their regular and daily needs -- such as mail or pizza delivery -- than to unexpected occurrences that require immediate and direct attention, they say.

"Sometimes, people just put numbers on the side where the mailman comes," Sergeant Wiseman said. "But we come from both sides. They don't think about us."

For more information, call the Bureau of Fire Prevention a 313-6040.

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