Baltimore County Now
Battalion Chief Jennifer Utz
Everyone has a favorite time of year, and although I no longer welcome the cold Maryland winters, I do long for December. For me, it is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Whether cutting down a Christmas tree, decorating the house, baking cookies or socializing with friends, I couldn’t find more happiness than I do during this time of year.
Still, as I relax by the fire, watch the lights glimmer and listen to the sounds of the season, I am reminded of the danger that all of this beauty can bring. In my nearly 14 years with the Baltimore County Fire Department, I have witnessed a lot of misfortune – but it is especially devastating when fires happen at such a wonderful time of year.
The good news is that fire is preventable. Here are reminders to keep your family safe as you celebrate.
· Cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of house fires and associated injuries. When cooking your holiday favorites, stay in the kitchen at all times. Do not let children near ovens and range tops. If the oven catches fire, turn it off, keep the door closed and call 911. Always keep a lid nearby if a pot catches fire; use the lid to smother the fire. Never put water on a grease fire; it will spread the fire! Get out of the house, and stay out until the fire department arrives.
· Decorations: Look for packages marked as flame resistant or retardant. Always keep combustible decorations away from any type of heat source. If you are using mini lights, string no more than three sets together and make sure the cords are not damaged. If you choose screw-in bulbs, use no more than 50 per set; and always check the manufacturers label on LED light sets for directions. Keep extension cords to a minimum, never run them under carpets, and if used outside keep plugs and cords free from standing water or snow. Do not use nails to hang lights, always use clips that won’t damage or cut through the cords. Call an electrician if lights flicker or fuses blow. Finally, always turn off lights and decorations when you go to bed or leave the house.
· Candles: Keep open flame candles at least 12 inches from anything that can catch fire. Watch children and pets carefully when using candles. Use a sturdy candle holder. Consider electric or flameless candles.
· Christmas Trees: The smell and tradition of a fresh cut tree is priceless. If your family chooses a live tree, keep it watered daily. Always unplug the lights before going to bed or leaving the home, and keep the tree at least three feet from heat sources.
· Carbon Monoxide: One final warning during this holiday season is to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. A faulty furnace, water heater or other gas appliance can emit carbon monoxide. Clogged chimneys, running vehicles and generators too close to the house also will cause a buildup of this deadly gas.
As you celebrate the holidays and spend time with family, remember these tips and stay safe!
Battalion Chief Jennifer Utz
During my career with the Baltimore County Fire Department, one particular fire stands out in my mind.
A family reported a house fire, and when we arrived we found a man with black soot on his face. He needed medical evaluation for smoke inhalation. When we asked him what had happened – how he was exposed to so much smoke – he said he had been trying to retrieve a high school ring.
Many of us can relate to his emotional connection with a special possession. But this person was lucky: His search for a replaceable object could have cost him his life.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, 3,005 civilian fire deaths were reported in the U.S. during 2011. House fires accounted for more than 2,500 of those fatal fires, as well as 13,000 civilian injuries.
Although the rate of fire deaths has dropped over the past few decades, these numbers remain alarming because most fire deaths are so preventable. I’ve found that many, if not most, fire deaths or injuries occur when people make certain critical mistakes:
• They delay getting out of the house. They check around the home to see if they can find out why they smell smoke. They run from room to room, grabbing items they want to save. They decide to call somebody- a spouse at work, for example- to ask what they should do.
If you see or smell smoke, or if a smoke detector activates, leave the home immediately. Once everyone is outside, call 911 either by cell phone or a nearby neighbor’s house. Let firefighters, who are trained and equipped, search for the source of a fire.
• They run back inside. They get out safely, but go back into the house to try to save a child, pet, or special possession. Let firefighters, who are trained and equipped, perform rescues.
• They panic, especially if an emergency occurs while they are sleeping. If you are sleeping and you hear the smoke detector or smell smoke, stay calm. Feel the bedroom door for heat, using the back of your hand. If the surface is hot, do not open it.
If possible, go to a window and make your escape that way. Or, wait at the window and wave your hands so the firefighters can see you. Stuff towels, sheets, or clothing at the bottom of the door to slow the spread of deadly smoke.
• They underestimate the deadliness of smoke. Most victims die from smoke inhalation and toxic gases, not burns. If you can’t get out without traveling through smoke, stay low, cover your mouth and nose, and crawl to an exit.
• They don’t install or properly maintain smoke detectors. At least one smoke detector should be installed outside of all sleeping areas. Smoke detectors should be tested monthly, and the batteries changed twice a year.
Too many times, people remove a battery from a smoke detector to stop it from alarming when the battery is low or when cooking, or because they need a battery for something else.
Our web site, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/firesafety, is a good place to start when making a home fire escape plan.
When I talk to citizens about home fire escape planning, I stress that it isn’t enough just to have a plan. The entire family needs to review and practice the plan a couple of times a year. That's the best way to avoid the kinds of mistakes that make an already traumatic event something much worse.
by Kevin Kamenetz
I am extremely proud of the men and women who choose to serve the people of Baltimore County in our police and fire departments. Without a doubt, they are among the finest in the nation. I am pleased to announce that Baltimore County is releasing a new recruitment video today that is designed to encourage minorities and females to pursue a career in public safety.
As we move forward in the 21st century, we need to do all that we can to ensure that we continue to protect our communities. As the demographics of the nation and County continue to change, it is critical that the individuals serving in all areas of government, but particularly in public safety, reflect the communities they serve. It is not only morally right, it is good public policy. Over the past decade, we have made significant progress, but we can do more. Most importantly, public safety depends on the public’s confidence. A diverse police and fire department builds that trust and makes everyone safer.
This new recruiting tool will be shared with school guidance counselors, ministers, broadcast widely on BCTV, and utilized at both traditional and no-traditional job fairs. We can, and will attract, an increasingly diverse group of men and women to serve in Baltimore County, while maintaining the high standards that make us so proud.
If you know someone who would be an excellent candidate to serve in Baltimore County’s police and fire departments, please have them contact the Department of Human Resources directly or visit http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov. I hope you will enjoy and share Baltimore County’s latest recruiting tool: http://www.youtube.com/baltimorecounty.