Putting safety first

When the flames start, don't lose your head. Here are some tips.

April 05, 2010|By CHRIS COPLEY
  • Stoyan Russell, retired emergency planner for Washington County, will lead a fire-safety seminar in May. He has two tips about gasoline: Store gas in a separate building, not in an attached garage. And store it in a safety can such as this vintage example. Safety cans have spring-loaded lids to prevent spilling, and other safety features.
Photo by Chris Copley,

It happens all too often. Someone is cooking in the kitchen. Maybe the stove is too hot under the frying pan. Maybe the cook steps away "just for a second."

But the next thing you know, there's a small flame, and someone screams.

OK, now freeze the scene.

It's at this point, Stoyan Russell said, that things can take one of two courses. Lose your head, and you might have a tragedy unfolding. Keep your head, and you might have a minor incident.

"When there's a fire, people don't think. They panic," said Russell, former fire fighter with Clear Spring and Antietam fire companies. "When a pan catches fire, people grab the pan and run outside. But they drop the pan, because it's hot."

Tragedy can be easy to prevent, he said.

"Just keep a lid handy when you're cooking," Russell said. "Then if there's a fire ..." He mimed putting a lid on a pan. "... and it goes out."


Get out and stay out

Russell, retired emergency planner for Washington County, presents fire-safety with Washington County Sheriff Department.

He will talk about fire prevention at a free seminar Tuesday, May 4 at the Washington County Division of Fire and Emergency Services, 16232 Elliott Parkway, off Greencastle Pike north of Williamsport. The public is invited.

A lot of fire prevention is simple, common sense.

"When there's a fire, don't panic," he emphasized. "The question to ask is 'Where am I now and where is my out?' Get out and stay out. There's nothing in your house that's worth your life. Except another person."

Russell said he's seen people go back into their burning house to retrieve something. Too many times, he said, they don't come back out again.

Ask the expert to visit

Russell said most fires are caused by things people do. They run too many extension cords from one electrical outlet. They pile papers too close to a radiator or woodstove. They leave cigarettes burning.

Some of these things are easy for homeowners to overlook. But invite a firefighter to your house and they notice potential dangers.

"Most fire companies in this county will do a fire inspection for you," Russell said. "They inspect the house and make notes. It helps the resident, but it also helps the fire company - they get to see what might face them if the house catches fire."

Fire companies might note things like whether a house contains specialized medical equipment, where interior doors are, or whether there are children or pets in the house.

They'll also suggest ways to improve fire safety. Are smoke detectors up to date? Are gasoline and other flammables stored safely?

But if tragedy strikes, Russell said, have a backup plan. If the family has to leave a burning house, have a place to meet.

"The homeowners who live in the house should have an assembly point so they can meet when they leave the house," he said.

If you go ...

WHAT: "Putting Out That Fire!" fire safety seminar

WHEN: 1:30 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 4

WHERE: Washington County Division of Fire and Emergency Services, 16232 Elliott Parkway, Williamsport. Please use lower rear entrance.

COST: Free and open to the public.

CONTACT: Call the Washington County Sheriff Department at 240-313-2100.

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