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This little light is gonna shine, but in line with safety plan

December 19, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - Christmas church services in years past often were illuminated by open-flame candle decorations and choir members - young and old - in procession carrying lighted candles and wearing flowing robes.

Fire code regulations caught up with those practices years ago, but churches found they still needed to be vigilant about fire and other emergency safety situations.

Otterbein United Methodist Church at 108 E. Franklin St. in Hagerstown undertook a major remodeling in 2004. A committee was formed specifically to establish guidelines for emergency evacuation in case of fire.

"We decided we should have an evacuation plan, so we set up a task force," said Joanne Hilton, an Otterbein member and chair of the Christian education committee.

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Hilton and other members of the task force contacted churches in other areas, similar in size and makeup to Otterbein, to help them with their plans.

During the remodeling, heat detectors, smoke detectors, pull stations and exit signs were installed in the new sections.

"The fire code didn't require any additional fire equipment in the existing building but the council voted to extend the protection," said Cindy Brown, director of programs at Otterbein.

Some of that includes special magnetic locks so the interior church doors close automatically in case of fire.

"Every room has a floor plan and an evacuation map posted on the walls," Hilton said.

In her role with Christian education, Hilton also helped set up the training for Sunday school teachers and ushers.

The training was recorded so it can be used well into the future with new teachers and ushers.

The congregation was kept abreast of the evacuation plans through the monthly newsletter. And one Sunday, someone from the task force addressed the congregation.

"I was the educator," Hilton said. It was the perfect role for Hilton, who retired after 31 years as a teacher and administrator.

A native of Baltimore, Hilton moved to Washington County and began shopping for a church.

"I visited here and found an excellent pastor and excellent music," she said. "I joined and threw myself into things."

Brown and Hilton described Pastor Stephen Robison as very safety conscious, crediting him with the battery-operated candles.

"I remember singing carols and carrying lighted candles as a child in my church," Brown said.

While the battery-operated candles have been used for a number of years, this year, 800 white glow sticks were purchased so everyone who attends Christmas Eve services will get one.

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