Fire safety programs need support

December 27, 2010

Thank you to The Baltimore Sun for continued coverage of the fatal fire in East Baltimore which claimed the lives of three generations of one family earlier this month ("Six fire victims remembered at mournful funeral service," Dec. 22). The reporting has brought a much-needed human face to the devastating impact of fires in our community. According to the state's "Injuries in Maryland — 2008 Statistics," burns from fires are responsible for more than 1,200 emergency department visits in Baltimore each year, and roughly 30 percent of these visits are for children under the age of 15.

According to media reports, it's not clear whether the home had working smoke alarms. While awareness of the importance of smoke alarms is indeed critical to increasing use among families, we know it is not enough.

For example, our research in Baltimore communities found that about half of the smoke alarms in homes were actually not functional. And in a recent survey of 603 homes in East Baltimore, only 40 percent had the recommended number of working smoke alarms.

Additionally, many families face significant barriers to purchasing alarms, either because they lack easy access to a retailer or because of financial barriers. This is why since 1999 the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy has been offering Baltimore residents reduced cost alarms and other lifesaving safety products through our Children's Safety Centers. We also work with the Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD) to help spread the word about their program, which offers residents free smoke alarms and installation.

And finally, we partner with the BCFD and the National Fire Protection Association to better understand how families interpret and respond to fire prevention education so that we can help community fire prevention programs be as effective as possible.

It is our hope that the recent tragedy will sound the alarm on the need for continued support and funding for these types of community programs and partnerships designed to reduce the burden of fire deaths and injuries in Baltimore.

Andrea Gielen and Alicia Samuels, Baltimore

Ms. Gielen is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Ms. Samuels is the center's communications director.

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