Firefighters sound alarm for safety

Countywide campaign seeks to ensure that homes have working smoke detectors

September 17, 2006|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,sun reporter

Calling two fatal house fires in which three men died over the summer "totally unacceptable," Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Association leaders are planning to launch a countywide campaign to make sure as many homes as possible have working smoke alarms.

Visits by firefighters to homes in the neighborhoods where the men died -- Eldersburg in July and Winfield last month -- yielded frightening statistics: Of the homes with smoke alarms, half of them didn't work because of age or a dead battery.

In its safety blitz after the county's first double fatal fire in years, members of the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department visited 100 homes and handed out 20 smoke alarms and numerous batteries.

While visiting 54 houses along Woodbine Road after the second fatal fire, Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department members provided 17 smoke alarms and 13 batteries to homeowners.

"We have a huge problem here, and it is time to go on the offensive," said Winfield Fire Chief Greg Dods.

"National statistics show that 52 percent of smoke alarms don't work," said Doug Alexander, the association's public information officer and chair of the Fire Prevention and Life Safety, Marketing and PIO Committee. "We want to improve the working smoke alarm statistics. Smoke alarms do save lives and property."

At Monday night's association meeting, Alexander listed some ideas his committee discussed for a countywide campaign, especially with Fire Prevention Week coming in October.

The first is to obtain enough smoke alarms to hand out to those in need. Options include doing a bulk purchase through the county government, contacting local businesses for donations of smoke alarms and asking the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office for support.

"Then we'd like to get a commitment from the fire departments to put the smoke alarms on the [fire trucks] so they'll have them when they go out on a call and see a need," Alexander said.

"We need to let the citizens know they need to check their smoke alarms and that they need a smoke alarm," he said. "We need people to do that. We need to hit the schools, civic clubs and senior centers."

Fire officials said there was no evidence of a working smoke alarm in either house involved in the fatal fires.

The campaign got an early start last month when the association sought and received support from the county commissioners. The county's September newsletter included "Did you know?" facts about the fatal fires and fire safety and the commissioners issued their annual Fire Prevention Week proclamation early.

"This is definitely going to have to be a priority for everybody," Richard Green Sr., association president, told the commissioners.

Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department offered literature on smoke alarms at the dedication of its new addition and renovation project last month and is working on plans to visit all the homes in its response area.

To launch Fire Prevention Week, the association's fire prevention committee will hold a kickoff event from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 8 at Town Mall of Westminster. Children's activities, fire safety crafts, and fire safety and prevention information for all ages will be featured.

Most of the 14 fire companies also visit public schools and day care centers or offer programs at the firehouse next month to teach children fire safety.

Fire prevention chair Kristi Gable said the fire prevention queens are working on seasonal fire prevention ideas, and she offered Maryland State Firemen's Association fire safety place mats to the fire companies for their fundraising breakfasts and dinners.

While some of the fire companies expressed concern about not having the manpower to go door to door, "there are many ways you can teach the public about smoke alarms," Green told the group.

Alexander vowed, "We'll do what we can to get started."

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