MCFRS News Release

2005 IN REVIEW

Area Fire Fighters Busier Than Ever as 2005 Comes to an Close

Five Montgomery County residents have been killed in residential fires this year. Most recently Mr. Joseph Walsh, age 80, of Leisure World died of smoke inhalation on December 2, 2005 as the result of a kitchen fire in an apartment located below his. Prior to Mr. Walsh, four other senior citizens over age 75 have died in fires all of which were started by careless smoking and/or improperly discarded smoking materials.

On April 14, 2005 Jack Siedel, age 75 and his wife Lanita, age 90, died as a result of a fire in their apartment at 1220 East West Highway, in Silver Spring. On May 7, 2005, Edward Wallace, age 79, died as a result of fire that occurred on April 11, 2005, in his apartment located at 415 Russell Avenue, in Gaithersburg and Valich Mossari-Amin, age 93, died on September 6, 2005 after accidentally setting her nightgown on fire on September 2, 2005. Again, the leading cause of fire fatalities, this year was related to smoking materials followed by unattended cooking. A total of seven persons died as the result of fire, five residential fires and two suicides. In January, two persons died from burns when they intentionally set themselves on fire in two separate incidents, one in Silver Spring and the other in Brookeville.

Montgomery County fire fighters and emergency medical first responders were called to assist on over 100,000 incidents in 2005. About one million fire and rescue personnel responded on emergency apparatus over 275,000 times during the year. About 75-80 percent of all responses were medical or rescue incidents.

The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) is a full spectrum life safety agency protecting nearly 1 million people who live and work in Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction. The MCFRS is a combination system (career/volunteer), operating with a budget of about $160 million, comprised of over 1000 career uniformed personnel and professional civilian staff and an equal number of volunteers, nearly half of whom actively participate in emergency response.

A completely new fire/rescue service was opened in the fast growing Clarksburg community, making Fire Station 35, the first new service to be added in about 25 years. There were several station renovations completed and a new station built and nearly completed, the much anticipated new Fire Station 1, in Silver Spring. In the next 10 years, five new fire/rescue stations are expected to built, primarily in the upcounty areas of Germantown (east and west), Clarksburg, Travilah and Shady Grove. A new warehouse facility was opened that centralizes many of the logistics and supply storage and distribution, as well as house staff offices of capital improvement, facilities and apparatus maintenance administrative personnel.

There were about 2000 actual fires (resulting in significant damage) including over 500 structure fires and nearly as many vehicle fires. These numbers are about the same, but slightly more than as in 2004. There were about 250 arsons reported this year. Dozens of persons were arrested by Montgomery County Fire Investigators, most of whom were juveniles, and the conviction rate is above the national average for crimes of this nature.

This year’s fire loss is estimated at approximately $40 million compared to nearly $35 million in 2004 and $42 million in 2003.

January, April and December 2005 were particularly deadly and costly. In January a fire on Twinbrook Parkway, in Rockville resulted in over $5 million in damage. In April three persons lost their lives in two separate incidents, including a double fatal in a highrise building on East West Highway in Silver Spring and a small fire in an apartment on Russell Avenue, in Gaithersburg.

Again, the winter months were the busiest for area firefighters. On December 2, 2005, an 80 year old Leisure World resident died from injuries suffered from a fire that caused over $1.6 million dollars in damage to an apartment building in the 3200 block of South Leisure World Boulevard. The fire started in the kitchen of another apartment.

Hundreds of persons were displaced and several residents and a couple of firefighters were injured in a several week span in December. In a 72 hour period Montgomery County fire and rescue personnel responded to at least two 3-Alarm fires that resulted in nearly $4 million dollars in damage. Dozens of families were displaced by the damage caused by these fires, including one that Fire Investigators believe a Germantown woman intentionally started a fire in her apartment after a domestic dispute with her boyfriend. As a result, about 75 occupants from thirty-six apartment units at the Oak Hill Apartments in Germantown were displaced. The suspect was arrested on the scene.

Estimated fire losses for December 2005 alone was over $7 million dollars in damage, resulted in one fire fatality, injured several citizens, as well as several firefighters and displaced well over one hundred persons and impacted many families. In a four week period spanning January and February 2005 fire damage also exceeded $7 million dollars.

There were about a dozen structure fires in 2005 that resulted in damage over $1 million dollars, including the Rockville apartment building on Twinbrook Parkway that suffered over $5 million dollars in damage, a 5-Alarm apartment building fire on Shorefield Court in Wheaton that resulted in an over $3.5 million dollars loss, the commercial building fire at Bugaboo Creek Restaurant on Shady Grove Road, Rockville and an apartment building on Halethorpe Lane, in Germantown both with losses of over $2 million dollars. In addition at least a five other residential structure fires resulted in damage that exceeded $1 million and about a half dozen others that had losses higher than $500,000. There were over seventy-five incidents in which damage exceeded $100,000.

The leading causes of fire are cooking, improperly discarded smoking materials, heating equipment (including space heaters and fireplaces), arson and electrical (not necessarily in that order). Improperly discarded smoking materials and/or careless smoking was the leading cause of fire fatalities, resulting in four deaths, followed by cooking. All fire fatalities occurred to persons older than age 75.

New legislation this past year brought about a reorganization of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service that included a first ever County Fire Chief. Fire Chief Tom Carr was sworn-in in January. Also legislation effective this year established a requirement that all newly built homes in Montgomery County will now have residential fire sprinklers, and Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigators now have full police powers. Montgomery County is the largest jurisdiction in the United States to require residential fire sprinklers in single family homes and the first jurisdiction in Maryland that gave Fire Investigators police powers allowing them to be criminal investigators with warrant powers.

In 2005 many other initiatives were initiated including a very successful “Fireworks Amnesty” program, various wellness and safety programs such as a colorectal cancer screenings for fire fighters, physical exams for all volunteer emergency responders and a driver safety and awareness program called “Hear Us, See Us, Clear for Us”, to name a few. Hundreds of homes received home safety evaluations or inspections while hundreds of smoke alarms were distributed to residents and fire fighters assisted checking the installation of thousands of child safety seats. For the first time ever, all fire stations in the region participated in the holiday Toys for Tots program. Fire stations throughout Montgomery County collected over 5,000 toys and at the same time continued local holiday traditions that impacted on thousands of county residents.

Dozens of personnel were involved in regional task forces and operational and support activities. The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service also hosted two national conferences, including the National Association of Hispanic Fire Fighters and the annual Women in the Fire Service Conference.

Much new equipment and apparatus worth well over $6 million dollars was placed in service throughout the county this year, including four aerial ladder trucks, at least seven EMS units, one pumper engine, one heavy rescue squad and close to two dozen support and staff vehicles. New apparatus will be servicing Takoma Park, Rockville, Cabin John, Sandy Spring, Kensington, Gaithersburg, Rockville-Darnestown, Burtonsville, Chevy Chase, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and other areas throughout the county. Over $30 million dollars of new apparatus is expected in the next two years.

It is important that all residents know to have a working smoke alarm on each level of a home, have an escape plan (know how to get out quickly) and call the fire department from a safe area, preferably a neighbor’s house.

BUSY TIME OF YEAR

Winter residential fires are more damaging and deadly than that of all residential fires. The leading causes of residential fires in the winter are heating, cooking and improperly discarded smoking materials. This contrasts with the all-year causes where cooking is the leading cause followed by heating. The increase in residential heating fires in the winter is not surprising.

Nearly 40% of residential fire related injuries and 50% of residential fatalities occur between the beginning of late November and end of February. Considering the numbers of deaths and injuries over the year; nationally, January is the peak month for both measures. In February 2004, a Colesville couple died. In December 2003, three Montgomery residents died in fires, in January 2002 four were killed and in November 2001 five persons died.

With the exception of the difference in cause of residential fire, winter fires are not particularly different from those fires that occur throughout the year. There are slight variations, however, in the area of fire origin. As would be expected by the increase in heating fires, chimney fires, for example, increase during the winter months.

The best protection a family can have in order to survive a home fire is the combination of a residential sprinkler system and working smoke alarms. Beginning this year all new single family homes have been required to have residential sprinkler systems. It is recommended that a smoke alarms be installed on every level of a home and families have and practice a home escape plan.

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