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Escape plans stressed in wake of fires

October 08, 2000

Escape plans stressed in wake of fires



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


When raging fires blocked the main entrances of two Hagerstown apartment buildings recently, residents had just seconds to find other ways out.

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At one building at 424 N. Locust St., more than 15 residents used a metal fire escape to flee an Aug. 29 blaze. When fire ripped through an apartment building at 941 Saint Clair Street on Sept. 2, people were forced to climb out windows and use ladders to escape.

Hagerstown Fire Department fire safety instructor Mike Weller and firefighters across Washington County are informing residents about the importance of home escape plans and other safety tips during National Fire Prevention Week, which started Sunday.

"In a typical home fire, there may be as little as two minutes to escape from the time a smoke alarm sounds. A home fire escape plan helps people use those minutes wisely and escape safely," Weller said.

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Weller said both fires, which were ruled arsons, spread quickly and that lives could have been lost.

"That's the reason why it's critical to make a escape plan before a fire, because seconds count," he said.

Weller recommends that people prepare for fires by installing smoke alarms on all levels of their homes and in each bedroom.

The alarms should be tested weekly, batteries changed semi-annually and smoke alarms replaced entirely every 10 years, he said.

To create a good escape plan, start by making a drawing of your home's floor plan, noting all doors, windows and smoke alarms, he said.

Next, determine the escape routes from each room. Doors usually provide the safest and quickest route, followed by windows.

A fire-escape ladder may be necessary for second-story exits, he said.

When leaving a burning building, stay low because smoke rises, Weller said. He added you should close doors behind you.

Chose a family meeting place a safe distance from your home - such as a telephone pole, a tree or neighbor's house - and mark it on the escape plan.

Families can practice their escape route during the "Great Escape," scheduled for Oct. 11, when fire sirens across Washington County will go off at 7 p.m. for the drill.

Maugansville-Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. firefighters and area Boy Scouts from Maugansville-Goodwill distributed 800 fliers to their community about the Great Escape and Fire Prevention Week, said Chief Phil Ridenour.

As the weather turns cooler and homeowners start turning on their heating systems, they should also take fire safety precautions by having equipment cleaned and maintained, said Weller.

Weller said he worries that Hagerstown will see many heating-related fires this winter season because of the rising cost of fuel.

"People may use alternative heat sources that weren't meant to be a primary heat source," he said, referring to portable heaters.

If kerosene or other portable heaters are used, they should be cleaned and tested and kept away from combustibles.

People with questions can call the Hagerstown Fire Department at (301) 790-2476, he said.

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