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Oct. 4-10 is Fire Prevention Week

October 02, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

On Sept. 24, a West North Avenue resident put a turkey leg in a pan to cook and went into another room to watch television.

At 8 p.m., neighbors saw smoking coming from the house and called 911.

The fire caused little damage and no injuries, but it illustrated what has become the most frequent cause of fire calls for the Hagerstown Fire Department in recent years.

"There were three food-on-the-stove fires in just five days that week," said Mike Weller, life safety educator with the Hagerstown Fire Department.

One such fire on Central Avenue on Sept. 19 caused $5,000 in damage.

In June, a home in Bethel Gardens sustained $10,000 in damages from a food on the stove fire, Weller said.

The official theme of National Fire Prevention Week, from Oct. 4-10, is "The Great Escape."

As part of the event, the Hagerstown Fire Department plans to continuing educating people about kitchen fires.

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"Cooking must be supervised at all times. ... It's that simple," Weller said.

If a small, stove top fire does occur, turn off the heat and smother the flames with a lid or a larger pan, he said.

"Most injuries and damages occur when people try to pick up the pan and get it outside," Weller said. "That is the worst thing one can do."

In 1997, the Hagerstown Fire Department responded to 1,700 fire calls.

A study of those calls, particularly the ones that caused structure damage, convinced firefighters that cooking was a real issue.

"We found that 40 percent of the fires that result in damage are cooking fires," Weller said.

While fires that resulted in deaths had a variety of causes, cooking fires resulted in the most injuries.

All the homes in Hagerstown have been surveyed for smoke detectors every five years, Weller said.

In 1998, firefighters began visiting certain sections of the city and spending more time working with families on fire safety, Weller said.

"We asked people what they thought was the biggest cause of fires and few got it right," he said. "They were surprised when we told them it was cooking."

On those visits, smoke detectors are still checked and replaced if necessary.

Electric smoke detectors should have battery backup.

Anyone with questions about fire safety may call Weller at 301-790-2476.

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