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Firefighters to talk to those at risk for fire

April 12, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - A $25,000 grant is paying for a new effort by City of Hagerstown firefighters to reach out to people most at risk for fires.

Fire-prevention officer Mike Weller said Monday that firefighters will kick off a new program when they take to the streets May 1 as part of their annual smoke alarm giveaway.

Beside installing tamper-resistant lithium smoke alarms, which last 10 years, participants in the city fire department's neighborhood canvassing effort will teach residents about fire hazards, Weller said.

People at risk for fires include the elderly, families with toddlers, the disabled and people who speak English as a second language, as well as people living in poverty, Weller said. The causes of most of the city's fires are related to the actions of the people involved, he said.

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"You take all those causes of fire, the root of what it all comes down to is personal responsibility," Weller said.

As part of Smoke Alarms for Everyone (SAFE), firefighters will talk to people who are especially at risk for fires started by behaviors like careless cooking or smoking.

"We're hoping that we have 200 people that will let us into their homes or make an appointment with us," said Meghan O'Brien, a part-time civilian employee of the fire department.

Weller said as part of the new effort, he is looking for translators to speak to people with limited English skills.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the at-risk population include African-Americans, Native Americans and people living in manufactured homes or substandard housing. Cooking causes the most home fires, but smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths.

Weller said O'Brien works about 24 hours a week at the fire department as part of the grant. More than half of the grant is going toward fire alarms, distribution materials and other items to support the effort, he said.

Weller said firefighters will concentrate their efforts in eastern downtown Hagers- town, but people throughout the city can request a fire safety talk.

"If they live within the City of Hagerstown, we will help them. That is our job," Weller said.

Since 1986, firefighters have installed more than 25,000 devices, Weller said.

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