Fire deaths remain low in county


A report from the Office of the Maryland State Fire Marshal last week said fire-related deaths are on the rise statewide, but in Washington County numbers have remained low.

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Maryland State Fire Marshal Rocco J. Gabriele's report said 91 people died in Maryland fires in 1999, an increase of 17 percent over the 78 people who died in 1998.

Two people died in fires in Washington County in 1999 and none in 1998, the report said.

In October 1999, Harold Rudell Trout, 78, of Frederick County, died in a car fire on the shoulder of Park Hall Road near Boonsboro.

On June 28, 1999, Joseph Russell Carter, 44, of 12024B Wolfsville Road, Smithsburg, died in a one-vehicle accident on Md. 66 near Smithsburg. Carter's Ford pickup truck struck a tree, overturned and caught fire, police said.


The most common causes of deadly fires in Maryland are smoking and heating devices, the report said.

Ted Meminger, deputy fire marshal for Washington County, attributes the low death rate to the hard work of area fire departments and the educational efforts of Mike Weller with Children's Village.

Every student in Washington County is required to go through a program at Children's Village, a fire safety education center.

"I give a lot of credit to Children's Village. They've done a lot to increase the fire safety consciousness of citizens," he said.

Meminger said his office investigated 75 fires in 1999, consistent with its average of 70 to 85 fire investigations annually.

In Hagerstown, firefighters fought 58 structure fires in 1999, typical for a 12-month period, said Weller.

Weller said he is pleased the death rate has remained low in Washington County, but people should still be cautious.

"At any moment in Hagerstown we could have a fire that kills a half a dozen people," he said.

Weller said the 1999 fire season and the first two months of this year were challenging.

"We've seen a lot of serious fires," he said.

The close proximity of homes in areas such as the West End increases the chance of fires spreading and makes them more difficult to bring under control, he said.

Smoke detectors are a homeowner's best defense against a major house fire, he said.

"Working smoke detectors cut down on the chance of dying in a house fire by 50 percent," said Weller.

Weller estimates that more than 96 percent of residents in Hagerstown have smoke alarms but not all of the devices function correctly.

Firefighters throughout Washington County frequently go door to door testing smoke alrms and installing them for free. Weller said he takes time to talk with residents to explain fire safety precautions and what to do in the event of a fire.

Smoke alarms need to be tested weekly, the batteries changed twice a year and the alarms replaced every 10 years, he said.

Weller said the most common structure fire in Hagerstown is from inattentive cooking, but he is seeing an increase in fires resulting from unattended candles.

The leading cause of fire injury in Hagerstown is from residents attempting to put out cooking fires by throwing water on a grease fire or carrying a burning pot outside.

The recent jump in heating oil prices has brought on additional fire safety concerns, said Weller.

More people are using portable heaters, which can be dangerous, he said.

They are to be used as a supplemental heating source only and kept away from flammable materials, he said.

"We can't let our guard down," he said.

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