Chief Concerns Baltimore City: "A Smoke Alarm Installed Within Two Hours"

The Baltimore City, MD, Fire Department’s neighborhood smoke alarm canvassing program began passively in the 1970s after the release of America Burning, a landmark document that emphasized, among other things, the importance of public fire safety...


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In the 24-hour period following the press conference announcing the new program, the 311 system experienced an avalanche of requests, and 311 operators handled every request. Baltimore City firefighters installed nearly 500 smoke alarms the first day and approximately 1,000 the first week. Obviously, the 311 system could not maintain that level of enthusiasm, but indications are that it will more than exceed the old hotline. The 311 system averages about 20 requests a day; the old hotline averaged three a day.

The entry rate is 98%, with the 2% failure rate usually attributable to one person calling on behalf of another and not letting the other person know; i.e., an adult requesting a smoke alarm for an elderly parent. There is a vast improvement in documentation and reporting. The 311 database is now our database for retrieving smoke alarm installs data. It is user-friendly, professionally maintained and highly accurate.

The early results look promising, but there is still the main challenge of “getting the word out.” Grants are great for providing resources to help us serve the public, but not many grants allow money for promotion of that service. Another challenge is reaching people who are unable or unwilling to call 311. We have not abandoned neighborhood canvassing and we still conduct “citywide” smoke alarm sweeps after every fire death and if requested by community groups.

Baltimore City has not by any means solved the fire problem completely, but where there are challenges, there are opportunities. Innovative and ambitious programs like this one are just one step in the right direction toward a goal we are all aiming for – “zero fire deaths in our community.” n