Firefighters urge Hagerstown residents to check alarms, practice prevention

October 10, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - It starts with that shrill, persistent chirping noise.

"I need to go get a new battery," people will say to themselves as they deactivate their smoke alarms. "I'll do it tomorrow."

But life intervenes and tomorrow often turns into next week; next week into next month.

"I wish I kept statistics on how often we'll go to a house after a fire and we'll find the smoke alarm," Hagerstown fire prevention officer Mike Weller said. "It's either laying on a dresser or it's in a drawer somewhere."

In fact, Weller said, about a third of all smoke alarms in the country don't work because of dead or missing batteries or because the sensors are too old, and homes without smoke alarms also tend to be more prone to fires in the first place. About 80 percent of residential fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms, Weller said.


That's why the Hagerstown Fire Department puts so much effort into promoting its free smoke alarms, which firefighters will deliver and install for any Hagerstown resident, Weller said. The alarms, which cost cost about $28 in stores, contain lithium batteries that last for 10 years.

The department has been distributing free alarms for more than two decades with the support of Housing and Urban Development grants, but an additional $25,000 state grant called Smoke Alarms for Everyone (SAFE) has recently allowed the department to expand its program.

Since January, the department has installed 500 alarms in 300 homes with funding from the grant, Weller said.

Monday evening, Western Enterprise Fire Co. firefighters Deanna Glaze and Dave Baer rolled up to the home of Vinzena Lassiter on Avalon Avenue in their fire engine.

Lassiter said she called the fire department after she heard about the free smoke alarms at a Head Start program. She knew her fire alarms were getting old, and she still remembers how frightening it was when she started a fire in her room as a child. She said she talks to her five children about fire safety from time to time to make sure she doesn't have to relive that experience.

This week is National Fire Prevention Week, and, while the fire department's smoke alarm program continues year-round, Weller said he is using this week to remind families that having a smoke alarm isn't all there is to fire safety.

By the time a fire is big enough to activate a smoke alarm, it will double in size every 30 seconds, so there's no time to waste in getting out and dialing 911, Weller said. It's important for residents to plan two ways out of each section of the house and agree on a meeting place outside. Families should practice their plans by activating the smoke alarm unannounced while children are asleep, Weller said.

"We need people to sit down, take a break this week and say, 'OK, what's our plan?'" he said.

Fire prevention and safety tips:

  • Have working smoke alarms (less than 10 years old) with batteries on each living level. Hagerstown residents may call 301-791-2205 for free smoke alarms with 10-year lithium batteries.

  • Test alarms monthly.

  • If your alarms use standard batteries, replace them when you set your clocks back each October.

  • Plan two ways out of each area of your home and practice the plan.

  • Have old electrical appliances such as furnaces and air conditioners checked or replaced.

  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking food.

  • Keep heaters 3 feet from combustibles.

  • Supervise children.

  • Don't leave candles unattended.

  • Smoke outside.
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