Fire deaths drop for 3rd year in Md.

August 06, 1997


Staff Writer

Fire-related deaths hit an all-time low in Maryland last year, a trend fire officials are attributing in part to aggressive fire safety and education programs.

There were 67 deaths in the state in 1996, nearly 30 percent lower than the 96 recorded in 1995, according to Brian Flanagan, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The numbers mark the third year in a row that fire deaths have dropped. In 1994, there were 119 deaths, according to Flanagan.


In Washington County, there was one fire death last year, and so far, there has been one this year.

Sharon Marie Gossard, 38, of 1 Leroy St., Hagerstown, was killed last September when fire broke out in her double house, fire officials said. On April 3 this year, Jesse Lester Shoemaker Sr., 83, died when the camper trailer he occupied off Indian Springs Road burned to the ground, officials said.

Washington County, which has a population of about 127,500, is considered to have a low fire death rate for its size. Between 1993 and 1996, there have been 9 fire-related deaths in the county, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Local fire officials attribute the low death rate to fire prevention programs, including the distribution of free smoke alarms to local residents.

Since 1983, the Hagerstown Fire Department has installed 2,800 smoke alarms in city homes, said Mike Weller, who handles public education for the department. At the same time, smoke detector technology is improving, he said.

New models being designed are expected to use batteries that can last up to 10 years, Weller said.

One problem fire officials see with current smoke detectors is that homeowners fail to replace dead batteries.

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