MCFRS News Release

Prevent Fires - Save Lives - Here's How

Several Multiple Residential Fire Fatalities a Cause for Alarm

Firefighters checking smoke alarms with Safety in Our Neighborhood campaign

10,000 homes visited and hundreds of smoke alarms installed

Six people were killed in a Washington, D.C. house fire on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2009. Within the past two weeks, we have had at least four horrific fires, one in Kentucky, one in Philadelphia, another in Missouri and in Washington, DC, that have killed a total of 20 people.  Of this total, 13 have been children.

Several weeks ago, on Wednesday, December 3, 2008 units from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service were dispatched for the report of a fire at a house located at 4806 Jamestown Road, near Worthington Drive, in Bethesda. Three children were rescued by firefighters and taken to the hospital. A father and two firefighters were injured and were also transported to local hospitals.  Damage was heavy and a family of five was displaced.  The children were hospitalized for several weeks, initially in critical condition.  They were recently released and their long-term prognosis is good, but none-the-less it was a close call.

In 2008 five (5) persons died in residential fires in Montgomery County.  This shows a marked and dramatic reduction from 2007 when thirteen (13) persons lost their lives in residential fires. In 2007 three (3) of the seven (7) fatal fire incidents involved multiple victims including a total of nine (9) victims in combinations of two, three and four at a time.

The U.S. Fire Administration cites the following statistics:

Regionally, Fire Chiefs are appealing for something to done this week and beyond. “Something has to be done. Somehow, someway, we have to get the word out to people and help people to protect themselves”, said Montgomery County Fire Chief Richard Bowers.  During the months of October and December 2008, Montgomery County firefighters have gone door-to-door checking smoke alarms, changing batteries and talking to residents about fire safety and fire escape plans.  “We now have more protection available for our homes than ever before and yet people are losing their lives because they seem to be not taking this protection seriously. No one thinks a fire can happen in their house”, added Chief Bowers.

Fire Chief Bowers says, “Any loss of life is tragic, but it is even more so when that death could have been prevented. Prevention and home safety first is what needs our focus.”

Even though Montgomery County has one of the lowest fire death rates, per capita, in the State of Maryland, in order to address the recent increasing death rate among seniors in fires, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and the Fire Chief accepted the Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force report at the end of October which made recommendations that may help solve the issue of seniors dying in fires.

Chief Bowers noted, “The Senior Citizen Fire Safety Task Force had a number of good people working hard to address this specific problem and troubling trend.”   Almost immediately, Chief Bowers asked all firefighters county-wide to be part of the ‘Safety In Our Neighborhood’ initiative and check smoke alarms while concentrating on senior centric areas.

Fire Chief Richard Bowers says, “This is a busy time of year for firefighters in this region.  The simplest thing a family can do to protect themselves from fire is have a working smoke alarm, on every level of their home, and have fire escape plan.”

Some recent incidents resulted in notable damage and major disruption while others were discovered early and were thus managed easily. Human factors, including appropriate and sometimes inappropriate human response to these factors affected the outcomes, some positive and dramatic, others not so good.
There are time-tested ways to prevent and survive a fire. It's not a question of luck. It's a matter of planning ahead.

Remember – the message is simple:

Develop an Escape Plan – Identify two ways out of each room in your home, identify a meeting place for your family outside, practice your plan at least twice a year when you change your clock.  Once Outside – Account for all family members at your designated meeting place, call 911 from a safe location, never go back inside a burning building for any reason.
Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives – Ensure you have a working smoke alarm on each floor of your home, additional smoke alarms can be placed in sleeping and kitchen areas, test your smoke alarms monthly, change the battery when you change your clock twice a year, if your smoke alarms are powered by your homes electrical system consider installing battery powered smoke alarms as a back up in case of a power outage.

For a free home safety evaluation in Montgomery County call the hotline at 240.777.2476 to schedule a time.