Some residents to get free smoke alarms

July 15, 1999|By ERIN HEATH

The Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association will install 1,000 free smoke alarms in homes around the county starting in early August, according to association President Jay Grimes.

Volunteer firefighters will install the smoke alarms in homes that were built before 1975 or those that are in "high-risk areas" for fires, Grimes said.

"Houses built before 1975 were not required by law to be built with smoke detectors," he said.

Association members have not yet identified the "high-risk" areas they will target, Grimes said. They received the smoke alarms Wednesday and are planning the details of the program, he said.

Maryland is one of 10 states to benefit from a $250,000 federal grant that will pay for smoke alarms that volunteers will distribute and install and then study for efficiency, Allen Gosnell, a public information officer with the State Fire Marshal's Office, said.


The office chose Washington County along with Garrett, Allegany, Frederick and Carroll counties, and three counties in Southern Maryland to participate in the project, Gosnell said.

Fire company volunteers in the selected counties will distribute and install a total of 10,000 smoke alarms, including the 1,000 in Washington County, and will monitor them for two years, Gosnell said.

"The federal government wants to know how effective they are," he said. "The important thing for us is that we get to put up 10,000 more smoke alarms" across the state.

Smoke alarms are "almost 100 percent effective" in warning people of a possible fire hazard and reducing deaths and damages caused by fires, Gosnell explained.

Fire deaths nationwide have been cut in half since 1975, said Gosnell, who attributed the decline to increased fire safety education efforts. Fire deaths in Maryland dropped to 78 last year, a 20-year low, he said.

The cost of smoke alarms has dropped as well, from about $20 a few years ago to $6 now, he said.

Gosnell recommended that people have at least one battery-powered smoke alarm on each level of their home. The alarms should be tested once a month, and the batteries changed every six months, he said.

"We recommend you change your battery when you change your clock for daylight-saving time," he said.

Mike Weller, a life safety educator for the Hagerstown Fire Department, said the biggest problem he has noticed in local homes involves smoke alarms that are too old. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years, he said.

Weller said he has helped inspect about 3,800 homes in the past month as part of a joint project between the Hagerstown Fire Department and the Hagerstown Lowe's store.

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