City installs 50,000th smoke detector Mayor, fire chief promote free program in Poppleton

October 21, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Jessie Kearney moved into her West Baltimore rowhouse a year ago with five grandchildren and one smoke detector. She installed the device in the hallway near the bedrooms on the third floor.

But one smoke detector isn't enough.

Yesterday, the mayor and fire chief visited her Poppleton home and installed another one of the potentially life-saving devices in her first-floor living room -- the 50,000th detector the Fire Department has given away in the past four years.

"You're the first person in Baltimore to have a smoke detector installed by the mayor," Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. told Kearney, explaining that each floor should have a detector. "We hope you never have to hear it go off."

Kearney knew 11-year-old Brandon Jefferson, a fifth-grader at nearby James McHenry Elementary School, who was one of three people killed in a fire Oct. 6 on North Arlington Avenue.

That house had one detector that worked, and Kearney said she realizes the need to have more. "If you are asleep, you need to wake up," she said.

The mood inside Kearney's home on North Schroeder Street was upbeat as a crowd of firefighters huddled to watch Fire Lt. Michael Williams stand on a stepladder and attach the small detector to the ceiling -- which took only seconds.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke then stood on the ladder and laughed as he hit the test button and photographers recorded the event. But the message was deadly serious.

Thirty of the state's 54 fire fatalities this year have occurred in Baltimore, and one-third of the city fatalities were in homes without a working smoke detector.

On Saturday, firefighters rescued 10 children from a burning rowhouse on North Mount Street that did not have a detector. Five people have died in city fires in the past two weeks -- two in homes without any warning system.

"We had a rough month," said Schmoke, addressing a group of firefighters outside Kearney's home. "I went to the Mount Street fire, and I saw some outstanding acts of heroism. To watch firefighters pull children out was amazing.

"If we can get detectors in all of our homes, the city will be in better shape and your jobs will be easier," the mayor said.

The smoke detector campaign began in 1994 through donations from area businesses. Any city resident who wants one of the devices can request one from a local fire station. A firefighter will install the device and put in free batteries.

The detectors have been given to the city by Home Depot, Hechinger, Energizer and Radio Shack as part of WMAR-TV's "2 Save A Life Campaign."

The need was driven home in March 1995, when a fire killed three people just as the Fire Department was holding a news conference to announce an expanded smoke-detector giveaway.

That same month, three more people died in a fire. In that home, firefighters found two smoke detectors tucked away in a charred dresser in the same room where the victims died. One detector was was going off, its sound stifled.

Yesterday, after visiting Kearney's home, the entourage walked two blocks south to James McHenry Elementary School, where Williams talked to a group of 100 pupils about the importance of having working smoke detectors in their homes.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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