MCFRS News Release

Kensington Couple Die in House Fire - No Smoke Alarm

Third and Fourth Residential Fire Fatality of This Year in Montgomery County

Around 2:00 a.m. on Monday, May 7, 2007 units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service responded to the report of a house fire in the 3900 block of Baltimore Street, in the historic district of Kensington. First arriving units from Kensington, Fire Station 5 and surrounding stations encountered heavy fire and smoke coming from a large two and half story single family home located at 3914 Baltimore Street. Upon arrival of firefighters neighbors reported that they believed the residents were still trapped inside the burning house.

Initially the occupants were missing and their whereabouts were unaccounted for. An adult male was found with fatal injuries, outside near the rear of the house. Eventually, the female occupant was found several feet away in the first floor kitchen. Both had succumbed to their injuries and were pronounced dead on the scene.

The victims are being identified as Oskar Craig Reynolds, age 88 and his wife, Patricia Reynolds, age 84. They had been residents of the home for 48 years. Approximately 75 firefighters responded to the 2nd Alarm fire.

A neighbor, who had attempted a rescue prior to the arrival of firefighters, was forced back by heat and smoke. He was treated and released form a local hospital. Two fire fighters received minor injuries and were expected to be treated and released.

Fire Investigators believe the area of origin was the kitchen. The cause of the fire is thought to be accidental, but remains under investigation. Damage was significant, estimated to be over $1.25 million dollars.

To address the increasing death rate among seniors in fires, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Fire Chief Tom Carr look forward to a Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force report charged with making recommendations to help solve issue of seniors dying in fires.

County Fire Chief Tom Carr said, "Any loss of life is tragic, but it is even more so when that death could have been prevented. Prevention and safety first is what this task force is all about."

"Since the beginning of 2005, up to the present, we have had thirteen (13) fire-related deaths in Montgomery County," Carr said, "and twelve out of the thirteen victims were over the age of 75. The Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force has people working to address this specific problem and troubling trend."

Consisting of up to 25 members, the Task Force will be tasked with submitting to the County Executive and County Fire Chief recommending strategies and procedures designed to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries to senior citizens in the county.

Montgomery County, Maryland has had four (4) residential fire fatalities so far this year, in 2007, the same number as all of last year (2006). Seven (7) out of eight (8) fire fatalities have been over the age of 75. There were five fire deaths in 2005 and all five 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.

Senior citizens (those 65 years and older) are the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S. population. Nationwide, seniors have a fire death rate nearly twice the rate for the population as a whole; for those over 75, the fire death rate jumps to three times the national average.

A senior resides in 21% of all Montgomery County homes. A significant percentage of seniors live alone. 32% of seniors over 65 have a disability. Physical limitations may mean that many of the actions a senior can take to protect themselves from fire dangers could require help from a care-giver, neighbor, or other outside source.

There are currently no life safety standards that provide for adults living on their own unassisted with health and disability impairments that put them at risk for fire injury or death.

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 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. For the past year all newly built single family homes in Montgomery County have been required to have residential sprinkler systems. It is recommended that a smoke alarm be installed on every level of a home and families have and practice a home escape plan.

The simplest thing a family can do to protect themselves is to have a working smoke alarm and an escape plan. Get out and stay out!

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 nine (9) fire fatalities in Montgomery County these past two years and the four (4) so far this year, six were over the age of 74 years old, five were 80 years old and two were over 90 years old. However, there are a number of precautionary steps older Americans can take to dramatically reduce their chances of becoming a fire casualty.

Quick Facts: Montgomery County, Maryland

Montgomery County residents may schedule a free home safety evaluation performed by a uniformed firefighter by calling the Home Safety Hotline @ 240.777.2476.

UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS

Why Are Older People at Risk?

Older Americans are at risk for fire death and injuries for a number of reasons:

What Fire Hazards Affect Older People?

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. Do not delay!

Statement from County Executive Isiah Leggett on the death of elderly Kensington couple in house fire May 7, 2007:
"My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Oskar and Patricia Reynolds, the Kensington couple who, sadly, lost their lives this morning when fire swept through their home. This tragedy - all too vividly - points out the vulnerability of any homeowners when fire strikes, but this is especially true of our older residents.
"Of the 13 fire fatalities that have occurred in the past three years in Montgomery County, 12 were senior citizens. This puts us far above the national average.
"In response to this unfortunate trend, a Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force was created in March 2006 and charged with submitting to the County Executive recommended strategies and procedures designed to reduce the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries to our older residents in Montgomery County. The Task Force has been hard at work, meeting weekly, to fulfill their mission, and I look forward to receiving their report within the coming weeks.
"Meanwhile, our Fire and Rescue Service has a wealth of information on fire safety in the home, including numerous tips on "Fire Safety for Older Adults." However, the single most important thing that residents can do is to make sure there are working smoke alarms in their homes.
"In the wake of the tragic fire this morning, I urge all residents to check and double check their smoke alarms and access the numerous fire safety tips online by visiting www.montgomerycountymd.gov/firerescue and click on "Safety in Our Neighborhood."
"Let us all learn from this sad, unfortunate incident."