MCFRS News Release

Recent Fires are Cause for Alarm

'Fire-Safe' (reduced-ignition) Cigarettes Could Save Lives!

'Legislation is a Top Priority'

Several recent fires associated with improperly discarded smoking materials have resulted in several deaths, injuries, dozens of residents being displaced, and have caused millions of dollars in damage. Montgomery County Fire Chief Tom Carr will testify in Annapolis on Wednesday, March 7, 2007 in order to support the Cigarette Fire Safety Performance Standard and Firefighters Safety Protection Act. The hearing is being conducted by the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee and will take place at 1:00 p.m. in the Casper Taylor Office Building, room 230, in Annapolis.

A total of four (4) Montgomery County residents were killed in residential fires in the year 2006, three (3) out of these four (4), or seventy-five percent (75%), the result of fires ignited by smoking materials. This is compared to four (4) out of five (5), or eighty percent (80%), residential fire deaths that were started by smoking materials in 2005.

None-the-less, in the past two years, seven (7) out of nine (9), or nearly eighty percent (80%), of residential fire fatalities in Montgomery County have been the result of careless smoking and discarded smoking materials.

Not long after last year's Maryland legislators considered a similar Fire Safe Cigarette and Firefighter Safety Bill, 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. Her husband survived.

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 from a fire ignited by a discarded cigarette. These fires occurred last year, one prior to, and the other shortly after the Maryland House and Senate considered, but did not pass, similar fire safety legislation during 2006.

The fire death situation was very similar in 2005. In April of that year, Silver Spring residents Jack and Lanita Siedel, age 75 and 91 respectively, died in their high-rise apartment by a fire started by a discarded cigarette, just days after Bert Wallace, age 79, sustained life-threatening injuries from a fire started by careless smoking in his high-rise apartment building in Gaithersburg. Mr. Wallace died about a month later. In September 2005, Valich Mossavi-Amin, age 93, was killed by a fire started discarded smoking materials in the living room of his Gaithersburg house.

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. A Reduced-ignition (or fire-safe) cigarettes mandate is 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.

Montgomery County Fire Chief Tom Carr will be joined testifying with Maryland State Fire Marshal Bill Barnard, Clinton Volunteer Chief Robert Small (representing Maryland Chiefs Association), and Bob Balta (representing Maryland State Firemen's Association). Many other fire chiefs and safety advocates from across the State will also be participating.