MCFRS News Release

Chevy Chase Woman Succumbs to Injuries

83 year-old Resident Rescued by Firefighters
County’s fourth (4th) residential fire fatality of the year.

Around 8:45 p.m. on Friday, November 24, 2006 units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service responded to the Highland House Apartments, located at 5480 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase for reported smoke coming from an apartment. Mrs. Leona Schwartz, age 83, succumbed to her injuries and died. Fire Investigators believe the cause of the fire was accidental and caused by smoking materials. She is the fourth (4th) residential fire fatality of the year in Montgomery County.

First arriving firefighters from Bethesda, Fire Station 6, were advised of smoke conditions on the 7th floor. Moments later they were confronted with an elderly male resident from a 7th floor apartment in the hallway who indicated his wife was still in the apartment on fire. Mr. Nathan Schwartz was suffering from possible smoke inhalation and minor burns. As firefighters forced entry into the apartment to search for the victim, smoke conditions were moderate in the hallway and heavy in the apartment. A precautionary 2nd alarm was dispatched.

The 93-year old male resident was immediately assisted from the building by firefighters to waiting emergency medical technicians and was transported to the MedStar Burn Unit at Washington Hospital Center. Within minutes other firefighters located his 83 year-old wife, semi-conscious wife on the living room floor in Apartment #722. She had received significant burns, approximately ninety-five percent (95%), second and third degree burns, as well as smoke inhalation and possible respiratory burns. She was removed from the area, initially treated on the scene, resuscitated and transported to the MedStar Burn Unit at Washington Hospital Center. She succumbed to her injuries early this morning, on Saturday, November 25, 2006 and died at the hospital.

Numerous other residents were assisted from the building by firefighters, while others self-evacuated and/or were sheltered-in-place. One (1) other resident received a minor leg injury and was transported to a local hospital. The fire was quickly controlled and extinguished. The fire was contained to the apartment of origin. Damage is estimated to be about $10,000. Dozens of residents were evacuated, but most were able to return by 10:30 p.m.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Fire and Explosive Investigators believe the victim, Leona Schwartz, was a heavy smoker. Evidence of smoking materials were recovered near the point of origin. The fire originated on a stuffed, upholstered recliner chair located in the living room of the apartment. All indications are that Mrs. Schwartz was sitting in the recliner and her husband was in a chair next to her. They were watching TV. Mrs. Schwartz’s clothing is the most probable first material ignited. From the injuries observed on Mr. Schwartz, it would appear that he made attempts to help his wife and when they failed he went for help, locking himself out of the apartment in the process. When firefighters arrived he reported that his wife was still in the apartment.

Mrs. Schwatrz is the County’s fourth (4th) residential fire fatality of the year.

The leading causes of all fires are improperly discarded smoking materials, cooking, heating equipment (including those associated with space heaters and fireplaces), arson and electrical (not necessarily in that order). In Montgomery County, improperly discarded smoking materials and/or careless smoking is the leading cause of residential fire fatalities accounting for three (3), followed by one (1) caused as a result of cooking. Most victims are elderly, three (3) out of the four (4) residential fire deaths this year, in 2006 and all five (5) residential fire fatalities in 2005 occurred to persons older than age 75. A 56-year old Wheaton man caught his clothing on fire in September 2006 while cooking. He died in October. All other residential fire fatalities in 2005 and 2006 were the result of smoking materials and involved senior citizens.

During the past two years, eight (8) out of nine (9) residential fatal fire victims were over the age of 75. Fire deaths in the County in the last several years have established a trend which clearly show older adults are at higher risk. Earlier this year County Executive Doug Duncan established the Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force.

Consisting of up to 25 members, the Task Force is actively engaged and will submitting strategies and procedures designed to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries to senior citizens in the county in a report to County Executive Doug Duncan and County Fire Chief Tom Carr.

The Task Force will have up to 25 members, with the majority of the public members being senior citizens. Members will be serving for two-year terms. Mr. J. Paul Thomas, of Colesville is the Chair and Jacqueline Rabinow, of Silver Spring is the Vice Chair, both of whom were appointed by the County Executive.

Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force

Purpose:

The Task Force must advise the Executive and the Fire Chief on strategies and procedures designed to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries to senior citizens in the County. This includes providing advice on:

  1. Approaches to reduce fire risk, injury, and deaths among senior citizens;
  2. Demographic and community changes (such as housing density) that affect safety of the elderly;
  3. Educational efforts to be undertaken to improve awareness among senior citizens and their caregivers of fire injury and death prevention strategies;
  4. Resources needed to reduce fire risk among senior citizens in the County;
  5. Legislation at State and County levels to reduce fire risk, injury, and deaths among seniors.
  6. Encouraging the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to write standards for senior citizen housing.

The facts speak for themselves: Montgomery County, Maryland residents over the age of 65 are one of the groups at greatest risk of dying in a fire. For that matter, on average, nearly 1000 Americans age 65 and over die in fires each year. People over the age of 80 die in fires at a rate three times higher than the rest of the population.

Of the four (4) residential fire fatalities this year (2006) and the five (5) fire fatalities in Montgomery County in 2005 most were over the age of 75 years old, one was 56 years old, one was 78 years old, three were 80 years old and two were over 90 years old.

Quick Facts: Montgomery County, Maryland

NOTE: smoking materials was the cause 80% (4 of 5) residential fire fatalities in 2005 and 75% (3 of 4) of the cause of fatal fires so far this year (2006). The past two years – 7 of 9 were caused by smoking materials.

In 2006 - Four (4) residential fire fatalities this year – involved senior citizens age 84, 83 and 78, - smoking material was the cause and 56 year old – cooking was the cause.

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