Md. Depts. Proactive During Fire Prevention Week

Two Maryland departments are taking proactive approaches when it comes to smoke alarms.

If a Baltimore city resident calls to request a smoke alarms, they generally don't have to wait more than two hours.

Since the initiative started last month, city firefighters have installed more than 1,000 alarms, said Chief Jim Clack.

Residents who need alarms are told to call 311, the same number they would use to report potholes or other issues in the city.

Clack says those answering 311 calls then forward the information to 911 dispatchers. "Firefighters are then sent to the residence to install the alarm. Our goal is to have it done within two hours."

The new system is working much better and quicker than the old method. "Firefighters enjoy talking to residents, and hand out other information. We've partnered with the health department, and are giving crib safety literature."

The department received a $10,000 FIRE act grant to purchase smoke alarms and related tools which helps since crews usually place one on every level of the home.

The alarms are being equipped with lithium batteries with a 10-year life. The month and year of installation is placed on the face of the device.

There have been 11 fire deaths so far this year, and Clack believes smoke alarms are making the difference. The city usually experiences about 25 or more deaths.

The department really started promoting alarms in residences in the 1980s after the city saw fire deaths climb into the 80s, he recalled adding that since then firefighters have probably installed close to 200,000 alarms.

"My goal would be have no fire deaths."

In Salisbury on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a smoke detector program is being credited with saving five people.

Following a tragic fire earlier this year, firefighters visited the area to determine if residences had working smoke detectors, explained Chief Jeff Simpson.

Firefighters installed smoke alarms in a house that previously had none. Little did they realize that it would make the difference months later, he said.

That effort by volunteers was headed by Lt. Danny Hill.

Simpson says the department obtains smoke alarms through various means including businesses and the state fire marshals office.

In addition to providing and installing detectors, firefighters also test existing devices and replace batteries if necessary.

The combination department that responds to about 11,000 fire and EMS calls annually relies on everyone to promote fire prevention and life safety education, the chief said adding that there is no separate division to handle it.

This week Salisbury firefighters are visiting schools and discussing their jobs with children, some of whom have been reading cliffhanger books, Simpson said adding that crews have been doing some rappelling.

They also have teamed up with a popular character, Ronald McDonald, to deliver fire prevention messages as well.

The importance of life safety education was mentioned last week when the nominee for the nation's top fire chief appeared before a Senate committee.

Former Chief Ernest Mitchell told the panel: "Since the beginning, the USFA has played a significant role in ensuring public safety through better fire prevention and control."

He said the mission has always been to support fire departments and other agencies in their effort to minimize the loss of civilian and firefighter lives. He spoke of the need to focus on those most vulnerable to fires, the elderly and people with special needs.