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Fighting fires in advance

February 03, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

erinc@herald-mail.com

After seeing two of her neighbors lose their homes in separate fires within two weeks, Tora Kershner, 86, said she was worried, so she bought several smoke detectors.

She now has eight in her home in Northaven Mobile Home Park.

She was preparing to install the alarms Wednesday night when two firefighters from Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. knocked on her door. Lt. Joe Goodrich and Capt. Chuck Burleson installed and tested Kershner's smoke alarms, along with many others in Northaven and a neighboring mobile home park.

At least 12 homes they visited Thursday had no working smoke detectors, Goodrich said. Firefighters gave those residents free smoke alarms and installed them.

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Eight residents purchased smoke detectors after the fires, but had yet to install them, Goodrich said.

"We put up those detectors that people had purchased," Goodrich said.

Fire destroyed Northaven mobile homes Jan. 17 and 28.

"It's just so scary," said Shirley Alexander, who lives in Northaven. "I've lived here for 30 years, and I don't remember anything like this."

The Jan. 17 fire was caused by a space heater left too close to combustibles, according to the state fire marshal's office. The second was ignited by a furnace that was filled with the wrong fuel, the fire marshal said.Goodrich said Maugansville Fire Co., which is the primary station that responds to Northaven, wanted to be proactive and help residents protect themselves. Twenty-three of the station's volunteers went door-to-door in the communities for several hours.

"We'd rather prevent the fire," he said.

They talked with residents or left fire safety information at 168 mobile homes - 141 of those in Northaven.

Firefighters replaced batteries in 18 smoke detectors Wednesday night and had only one person refuse their help.

"Our main purpose as we went around was to advise people to check their smoke detectors and be aware of what kind of fuel they are using," Goodrich said.

He and Burleson also took time to talk with residents about other fire safety concerns. Heather Cleveland, 22, talked with them about how best to protect her 3-year-old daughter, Kelsey Ross.

Goodrich told Cleveland she should install a smoke alarm outside of Kelsey's room and talk with her about fire safety.

Goodrich also showed Kelsey what to do if the smoke alarm activates, telling her to get low, crawl to the front door and go outside.

Alexander said after the most recent fire, she had her furnace and electrical wiring checked.

Maugansville firefighters said one mobile home had a furnace that was not running properly. It was extremely hot, Goodrich said.

Another home had electrical wiring that needed to be inspected by an electrician, he said.

Kershner's smoke alarms had not been checked since she moved into her mobile home 28 years ago, she said. But after the fires, she checked them and purchased more.

"She was definitely ready," Goodrich said.

Weeks ago, Kershner was cooking turnips on her stove and forgot to turn it off before leaving the house. When she returned, Kershner said, her entire home was filled with smoke.

"We just want them to be safe," Goodrich said. "And hopefully, now, they will be."

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