MCFRS News Release

Bethesda Woman Saves Housemate

Recent Fires are Cause for Alarm

Fire-Safe (reduced-ignition) Cigarettes Could Make a Difference!

'Legislation will be a Top Priority'

Several recent fires associated with improperly discarded smoking materials and careless smoking in Montgomery County have resulted in several deaths, injuries, dozens of residents being displaced, and have caused millions of dollars in damage. In several other cases, smoke alarms had activated, alerting occupants to get out. Most did without injury. Smoke alarms and proper human response to the alarm have saved lives!

The most recent case occurred around 8 p.m. on Friday, January 26, 2007 when units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service responded to a house fire at 9902 Inglemere Drive, in the Stratton Woods neighborhood of Bethesda. First arriving firefighters encountered a fire in a basement rental apartment of a large two-level single family house. Firefighters were greeted by two occupants in the carport. One had burn injuries. They directed firefighters to the basement. A homeowner's quick action saved her tenant's life and helped reduce the extent of damage.

The basement was partially finished, one part was a small apartment with a kitchen, dining area, and bedroom. Another area was used as a recreation and game room, while another area was unfinished and used for laundry and storage.

Fire Investigators believe a 36-year old resident, living in the basement discarded a cigarette that came in contact with some materials left on the kitchen table. The fire quickly spread to nearby combustibles, clutter and assorted 'collectibles', including bags containing newspapers, periodicals, mailings, etc. The victim's clothing caught fire. In the meantime, a smoke alarm activated.

The homeowner, Marianne Lynch was upstairs doing some housework. She heard the smoke alarm (which is interconnected throughout her home). She went to investigate. As she approached the stairway to the basement she began smelling smoke. Ms. Lynch looked down the open stairwell and saw smoke at the ceiling level. She descended the stairs and began knocking on the door to the apartment where her tenant resides. Initially the tenant did not respond to the knocking. Ms. Lynch then broke through the lock and saw a fire burning in the kitchen of the apartment, she then saw her tenant, incapacitated sitting in the kitchen just beyond a intensifying fire.

Without regard for her own safety, Ms. Lynch entered the apartment, passed by the fire area in order to rescue the tenant. Conditions were hot and smoky. After closing the door behind them and getting the tenant out of the apartment area Ms. Lynch removed some burning clothing, extinguished other small fires on the victim, and then evacuated the structure with the dazed woman in tow. She called 911. She covered the woman with her coat. Moments later they met responding firefighters in the carport and pointed them to the fire area.

Damage was estimated to be approximately $40,000. Three persons were displaced. Again, the cause is believed to be improperly discarded smoking materials. The victim suffered 2nd degree burns to approximately 20% of her body and possibly some inhalation burns. She was transported to the MedStar Burn Unit.

Fire Investigators believe the decisive actions of Ms Lynch were life saving and by closing the door behind her on the way out kept property damage to a minimum.

Of course we hope that people don't smoke in the first place, but if they choose to do so we suggest that they be careful when disposing of cigarette butts and other smoking materials. Use appropriate containers, ie. ashtrays or other non-combustible receptacles. Designate safe smoking areas and isolate those areas preferably away from buildings and away from anything combustible such as landscaping mulch, wood decks, furniture, etc. Be careful if smoking and using alcohol. Do not smoke if you are drowsy or tired.

If you smell smoke or any other peculiar burning odor - call the fire department immediately by dialing 911.

A total of four (4) Montgomery County residents were killed in residential fires in the year 2006 compared to five (5) in 2005. In the past two years, seven (7) out of nine (9) residential fire fatalities have been the result of careless smoking and discarded smoking materials. Most recently, Mrs. Leona Schwartz, age 83, a resident of the Highland House Apartment in Chevy Chase died from burns and smoke inhalation as result of fire that occurred on November 24, 2006. Careless smoking was to blame for the fire. Prior to Mrs. Schwartz two (2) others died in residential fires started by cigarettes, including Mary Louise Harrington, age 78, of Kensington who died on August 27 and on February 26, 2006 Mr. Francis Richard Deleo, age 84, of Rockville died of a result of injuries he sustained on February 9, 2006.

Improperly discarded smoking materials is one of the leading causes of fire and contributes to millions of dollars in property damage, including well over $10 million in total loss during the last three years in Montgomery County alone (including nearly $2 million in May '06). Smoking materials (i.e., cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.) are the leading cause of fire deaths the last couple of years in Montgomery County and in the United States.

Last legislative session (2006), Maryland considered legislation that advocates reduced-ignition strength ("fire-safe") cigarettes. California recently passed legislation mandating the sale of fire-safe cigarettes joining New York, Vermont, and all of Canada and several other states in requiring the use of such cigarettes. Many other states, including our own (Maryland), are considering and are working to pass similar bills this year. Reduced-ignition (fire-safe) cigarettes will be Montgomery County Fire Chief Tom Carr's highest legislative priority.

A recent preliminary report out of New York showed that the number of deaths caused by cigarette-ignited fires dropped significantly after implementation of that state's fire-safe cigarette requirement. In addition, a recent Harvard School of Public Health study found that the New York mandate had no negative effect on cigarette sales in that state and no significant effect on the health risks of smoking from the new cigarette technology. The research shows that consumers have accepted fire-safe cigarettes. In fact, the Harvard researchers found no valid reason why cigarette manufacturers should not sell fire-safe cigarettes all across the country.

Having a working smoke alarm more than doubles one's chances of surviving a fire. A combination of a residential sprinkler and working smoke alarms almost guarantee that a person will survive a fire.