Obscure house numbers still a safety concern

Firefighters, police favor requiring clear markings

June 13, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Unclearly marked addresses on homes and businesses in Carroll County remain a safety concern -- and might needlessly cost a life, police, fire and emergency officials say.

For about nine years, new homes and commercial buildings in the county have been required to post street numbers on the front to obtain a use and occupancy permit.

"That ordinance has helped a lot, but it doesn't help with older homes and businesses, or if the house numbers fall off and no one is there to enforce their being put back up," said Leon Fleming, spokesman for the Carroll County Firemen's Association.

"And it doesn't help in situations where the houses cannot be seen from the road," he said.

Concerns about address markings surfaced recently when an updated Emergency Services Master Plan -- a blueprint to guide such services in the county -- was presented to the county commissioners.

The problem is magnified in rural areas, where houses built along a lane or private driveway are marked at the main road with a cluster of mailboxes, officials said.

"Each box may be marked, but that's no help when emergency help arrives, drives down the lane and can't tell which house to go to because they are unmarked," Fleming said.

Michael Stewart, president of the Pleasant Valley Community Fire Company, said even marked addresses can be a problem when numbers are painted on only one side of a mailbox.

"They are marked on one side in the direction from which the mailman comes, but maybe not on the side from which a firetruck is arriving," Stewart said.

Stewart, Robert Cumberland, president of the Carroll County Firemen's Association, and 1st Sgt. Dean Richardson, spokesman for the state police in Westminster, said they favor legislation requiring home and business owners to clearly mark addresses.

The numbers should be at least 3 inches tall -- 6 inches would be better -- and visible from the road, Fleming said. Fluorescent numbers would be best, he said.

Richardson said troopers who are unable to find a particular address during a call often have to radio a dispatcher and have a call placed to the home for more directions.

"That takes an extra two to three minutes, and during a burglary, for instance, calling back may put the person who originally contacted us in jeopardy," Richardson said. "In an extreme emergency, any delay could cost a life."

Some homeowners prefer using post office boxes and don't bother to mark their homes, Richardson noted.

"A man once told me he did not want house numbers on his home because he was a known gun collector, and he didn't want anyone knowing which house was his," recalled Howard S. "Buddy" Redman, the county's chief of public safety.

When Redman asked what the man would say if he had a heart attack and paramedics couldn't find his house, "the man said, `I'll take that risk.' "

Such illogic is difficult to overcome.

Redman said fire and rescue workers deal with the problem of unclearly marked addresses on about 15 percent of all calls.

Redman said a push for marking addresses was made about 10 years ago with the help of Civil Air Patrol volunteers.

"They went out with stick-on numbers and gave them to people to mark their houses," Redman said. "Unlike other jurisdictions where firefighters are paid, our firefighters are volunteers and don't have time to visit homes and talk with residents. We would need help from a community organization to take on a task like that."

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