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Baltimore County Now

Stay informed of what's happening in Baltimore County.
Keyword: baltimore county fire department

Jennifer Werry Stewart
Baltimore County Government Coordinator, 2015 Race for the Cure
Chief of Staff, Baltimore County Fire Department

If you are in Hunt Valley on a certain Sunday morning every October, you will be amazed to witness what looks like a sea of pink filling the roads and sidewalks!

I am excited to report that, once again, Baltimore County employees have been the top fundraiser among groups participating in the 2015 Race for the Cure. We are happy to partner with Komen Maryland to host the Race for the Cure each year and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is pleased to serve as the honorary chair for this remarkable event.

award presentation photoSpecial congratulations go out to Paramedic/Firefighter Linda Sears who was this year’s recipient of The Power of One award from Komen Maryland, presented to her at its annual appreciation reception last week by Komen Maryland Executive Director, Mark Roeder. (Photo credit: Ashley Michelle Photography.)

Linda has been the captain of the Fire Department’s Race for the Cure team for nine years and during that time, the team has raised $93,000 to support those affected by breast cancer. Linda was instrumental in registering people to participate in the race and created commemorative t-shirts each year to raise donations.

Baltimore County Government was also recognized at the reception as the top group fundraiser for the 2015 Race for the Cure. Sixteen teams from various county agencies collected almost $30,000 last year.

Thanks very much to everyone who participated, and let’s beat our own record and make Hunt Valley even pinker this coming October!


ThunderstormsCaptain Lonnie Ledford, Baltimore County Fire Department

Summer in the mid-Atlantic means hot, humid days and cooler nights, and there is always a possibility of thunderstorms. Meteorologists use modern Doppler radar and computer models to track and predict the path of weather events that affect our area. However, without individuals reacting properly to these warnings, many structures are damaged, and individuals are put at unnecessary risk.   

How can you prepare for and minimize the potential damages caused by these common weather events? To begin, we have to understand the terminology used by the National Weather Service when they issue notices. The term watch when used in conjunction with a weather event is the less immediately threatening. A watch indicates that the potential for a weather event exists in our area, and preparations should be made; however, the event may not actually occur or it may go around certain areas. Daily activities may continue with a watchful eye on the sky and ear to a radio. A weather event warning, on the other hand, means that conditions are being observed and a weather event is currently happening in the area or is deemed to be imminent within one-half to one hour. Precautions should be taken immediately to secure property and protect yourself and your family. Outdoor activities should be postponed or ceased. 

Another term that needs to be understood is the National Weather Service’s use of the word severe. A thunderstorm is classified as severe when it has the potential for wind gusts of 58 mph or when it produces hail one inch in diameter.  (A good visual gauge  to use is that a US quarter ($0.25) is approximately one inch in diameter.) Hail can damage glass, such as skylights or windows, and it can damage vehicles and hurt or possibly kill animals that are left outside. Bring animals indoors, and place vehicles in garages. 

While all severe thunderstorms have the potential for triggering tornados, hail size is good indicator of the potential of formation of tornados. Stronger cyclonic updrafts create larger hail sizes, and this can be indicative of the increased danger of a potential tornado. Lightening, while dangerous, is not included in the National Weather Service’s definition of severe because even less damaging thunderstorms can still produce significant amounts of lightening and lightning strikes. 

The United States faces approximately 100,000 thunderstorms per year, and only about ten percent of those are classified as “severe thunderstorms” by the National Weather Service.  Severe thunderstorm warnings should be taken seriously, and protective measures should be put into place as soon as possible.

There are several things you can do to prepare for a severe thunderstorm. The first consideration should be finding adequate shelter. Second, there are several life threatening situations that many people do not consider during a severe thunderstorm. The most obvious, and dramatic, is the potential for lightening strikes. Lightning strikes happen in four different ways.

1.  Direct strike – the lightening leader comes down and hits the object or person directly. The person or object becomes part of the discharge pathway to the ground. While this type of pathway is not very common, it usually occurs in large open space areas. If caught outside in one of these areas, make yourself as small as possible by crouching down as low as possible, placing your hands on your knees, ducking your head and raising your heels off of the ground. The only parts of your body that should be in contact with the ground are the balls of your feet and your toes. This position offers the best protection when shelter is not immediately available.

2.  Side flash or side splash strike – lightning strikes a taller object and jumps to an individual or object nearby, essentially creating a shorter pathway to the ground. Care should be taken to avoid being close to taller objects during a storm. Trees and other tall objects may provide some protection from the rain, but they also are prime targets for lightning strikes, so avoid using them as shelter during a storm.

3.  Ground current – lightning strikes a tree or other object and the lightning’s energy is transferred to the ground, where it moves out laterally. If a person or animal is in the area of the lightning strike, they could potentially become a victim of ground current. This type of strike is the most common in the fatalities of livestock and other animals.

4.  Conduction – metal objects such as pipes, landline telephone wires and fences are good conductors of electricity. While the metal does not attract the lightning, it provides a superior pathway for its conduction to ground. Try to avoid contact with any metal objects during a storm. Avoid taking showers and using sinks and other plumbing fixtures during a storm, due to its potential to conduct the current if the structure is struck by lightning.   

In Let’s Talk About the Weather Part Two, I’ll offer several more storm preparation tips to help keep you and your family safe this storm season.


poison image icon for COFire Chief John Hohman

In 2005, a 48-year-old man and his two stepdaughters, aged 14 and 15, died in their Essex townhouse after inhaling carbon monoxide.

In 2009, a 44-year-old woman died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her Fullerton apartment. The CO also sickened three others in the home, though they survived.

In 2010, two men, construction workers who boarded with a family in Pikesville, died in a CO incident. The house was a rental property.  

Today, I am proud to say that we have come a long way toward preventing senseless deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning. Since the 2010 fatalities, Baltimore County has reported no carbon monoxide related deaths.

As a Fire Chief with more than 35 years in the fire service, I know this reduction in CO-related tragedies did not happen by accident. We can be grateful to the life-saving carbon monoxide detector – and a piece of County legislation enacted several years ago requiring CO detectors in all rental properties.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas created by the incomplete burning of fuels, such as oil, natural gas, kerosene, coal and wood. Many household appliances use these fuels. If you have a clothes dryer, water heater, an oven or fireplace that uses natural gas, CO buildup can happen. Wood burning fireplaces and stoves, as well as kerosene space heaters, also produce CO.  If not detected, CO buildup from these appliances can seriously injure or even kill you.

The dangers of carbon monoxide escalate during periods of extreme heat and extreme cold. On a freezing cold day – like the record-breaking cold we have felt this month – homes are tightly sealed to keep in the warmth. You may have the heat turned up, the fireplace burning or a space heater running. If CO leaks because one of these devices is malfunctioning, it has no choice but to build up.

Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue. One of the most dangerous things about CO poisoning is that none of the early symptoms indicate a life-threatening situation. If undetected, the deadly gas can kill without your even knowing it is there. High levels of CO can kill within hours. Low levels will build up over time and slowly make you sick.  

Since the 2009 legislation, the number of CO calls handled by the fire department has increased. There were 704 CO calls received in 2013 alone. And this is good.

People now call the fire department when their CO alarms sound. This means that they are aware of the leak and are getting assistance before it is too late. The detectors are programmed to go off when levels of CO are very low, before the average adult experiences any symptoms.

Significantly, deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning plummeted after enforcement of Baltimore County’s law requiring CO alarms in rental properties. In addition, a state law passed in 2007 required all new construction to have CO alarms. I have no doubt that these laws are responsible for reducing serious carbon monoxide incidents.

Even with these advances, we need to do more to educate about carbon monoxide. This month, the Baltimore County Fire Department responded to a call in Randallstown. A mother and two sons were transported to the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, seriously ill from CO poisoning.

They were lucky. The family survived despite very high levels of CO in the house  -- 780 parts per million. This family’s house did not fall under any of the laws requiring CO alarms.

Let this near-tragedy be a reminder of the importance of having a CO alarm in every home.

Carbon monoxide related injuries and deaths are 100 percent preventable. Having a fully-functioning CO detector in your home can save your life.


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