Fire safety in Clarksville to be discussed

April 14, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Highland residents have a lot of questions for county fire officials and they expect to get some answers about the philosophy, politics and training of Clarksville fire station workers tonight.

Neighbors say they began questioning fire safety in the southwest Howard community after a single-alarm fire destroyed a $260,000 home in Green Hill Manor near the Montgomery County line nearly two months ago.

The home's owners and their neighbors say a jurisdictional conflict prevented a Montgomery County fire squad from helping to save the house.

Sandra Jaworski said that while she, her husband and their three children escaped injury in the Feb. 19 blaze, the family lost some priceless mementos.

They expect the insurance settlement to enable them to rebuild next year on the same foundation on Montell Court.

"We're worried about the type of help we will receive from the department if it happened again," Ms. Jaworski said. County emergency workers were alerted to the fire at the Jaworski home about 3:10 a.m. Feb. 19.

At least 18 units and 50 firefighters from Clarksville, Rivers Park, Banneker and West Friendship in Howard County; Sandy Springs and Burtonsville in Montgomery County; and the Laurel Rescue team from Prince George's County, responded to the fire.

The fire was under control by 6:03 a.m. and put out by 9:07 a.m. A malfunction in a wall receptacle where a night light was plugged in caused the fire, said John Earp, deputy chief state fire marshal.

Mrs. Jaworski and her neighbors contend that a fire unit from the Sandy Springs station had to wait for direction from the Howard team, which had jurisdictional leadership over the matter.

"All they could do was wait and sit around and drink coffee until they were told what to do," said Nancy Maloney, who lived next door.

Howard Operations Chief Edgar Shilling said the house probably could not have been saved. The department, he said, uses aggressive and defensive techniques, depending on the severity and type of fire encountered.

"There was just too much fire to do anything with," Chief Shilling said.

"When the [supervisor] felt the firemen were in too much risk, they went to the defensive."

Residents also say they're worried about the lack of fire hydrants in their rural community, where household water comes from private wells. The fire department uses a few dry hydrants, which can pump water from local ponds or streams.

Chief Shilling said the dry hydrants, as well as freezing February temperatures, made fighting the fire difficult that morning.

Some residents, such as Richard Tobias, say they fear that their home insurance will be raised because of the performance of the firefighters.

"The writing is on the wall," said Mr. Tobias, who has lived on neighboring Montell Drive for 23 years.

"The fire protection is not up to snuff," he said. "I want the professional people to do the job."

Tonight's meeting is to be at the Saint Mark's Episcopal Church at the intersection of Hall Shop Road and Route 216. Starting time is 7 p.m.

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