A little prevention goes a long way
Last January, a fire swept through a home in Chillum in Prince George’s County and claimed the lives of two toddlers and their grandparents. Investigators said at the time there was no evidence of any smoke alarms inside the house.
When we receive reports like this, we can’t help but feel grief for these families whose lives could possibly have been spared from such tragedies if only simple, preventative measures had been taken beforehand. We’ll never know if the smoke alarm would have meant the difference between life or death in the Chillum house fire case, but we have to assume it couldn’t have hurt.
According to the latest National Fire Protection Association research, about two-thirds of home fire deaths occurred in fires in which there was a non-working smoke alarm or no smoke alarm was present.
“All too often a tragedy occurs involving a dwelling fire that claims the life of an occupant and/or occupants,” State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said in a press release. “Sadly, in many of these occurrences, a lack of operating smoke alarms is revealed during the investigation. It is our hope that Fire Prevention Week will help us reach folks throughout the state of Maryland before they’ve suffered a tragic loss resulting from the effects of fire.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has proclaimed Oct. 9 through 15 as Fire Prevention Week. As part of that effort, Cecil County volunteer fire departments will continue to spread the word about the dangers of fires in the home. Most of those dangers can be prevented by performing basic life safety measures, the fire marshal’s office says. Here are some of Geraci’s suggested safety tips: • Maintain smoke alarms on every level of the home, in bedrooms and outside sleeping areas
• Replace smoke alarms every 10 years (look for the manufacturer’s date on the back of the alarm)
• Replace batteries in smoke alarms that have replaceable 9-volt batteries every year
• Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms in homes with fuel-fired appliances, place these alarms on every level of the home and replace them every 10 years
The state fire marshal also reminds homeowners that a 2013 law now requires “battery-only” smoke alarms, once they reach their 10-year lifespan, be replaced with new long-life sealed lithium battery alarms with silence, or hush button, features. The hush button temporarily disables the alarm to ventilate during mild smoke conditions generated while cooking. The use of these alarms eliminates the need to replace the batteries during the alarm’s decade-long life.
According to the fire marshal’s office, Fire Prevention Week is actively supported by fire departments across the country. And why shouldn’t it be? These small, round ceiling devices can mean extra seconds, even minutes, in the event of a fire when the occupants of the home are unaware or asleep. And that can be the difference between life and death.
House fires can start for any number of reasons, whether a stove was left on overnight, a cigarette was improperly discarded or an outlet or electrical wiring simply malfunctioned.
And things can happen outside as well. Last week, a garage fire heavily damaged a waterfront home in Leonardtown, and that blaze was traced to a riding lawn mower that had been recently put away. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.
So as the fire marshal suggests, inside the house and out, take preventative action. Be sure to install, test and retest those smoke alarms. Don’t wait until it’s too late.