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Baltimore County Now

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Keyword: fire

image of a mobile phone dialing 9-1-1Jason Bivens, Assistant Chief
Baltimore County 9-1-1 Center

Ever call 9-1-1 in an emergency and wonder why the call taker asks so many questions? You can rest assured that answering questions does NOT delay your help. The dispatcher is generally already sending help while your call taker gets additional information from you. Baltimore County 9-1-1 call takers are trained to ask questions that will help you get the assistance you need as quickly as possible.

Here’s some background on how the 9-1-1 Center works and some important tips to help us help you as quickly as possible.

It is important to stay on the line until you receive instructions to hang up.  

When you call for assistance, remember to dial the most appropriate number based on what you are reporting:

EMERGENCY: Dial 9-1-1

Non-Emergency: Dial 410-887-2222

When you call, we will verify your address or location, get your contact number, and ask some initial questions to determine the nature of the incident and what equipment and emergency response is needed to best help the situation.

AFTER sending your information to the appropriate dispatcher we will ask several additional questions to get more specific details for responding units and we will provide important instructions to you prior to their arrival.  Our highly trained call takers provide potentially life-saving instructions like how to perform CPR, control bleeding, deliver a baby or do whatever the situation demands until help arrives. If you are in danger, you may be instructed to leave the building, secure yourself in a room, or take other protective actions.

While you might not understand why we ask certain questions, or it may seem trivial to you, know that they are for your safety and that of the responders coming to assist you. Please try to keep your answers focused on the question and as brief as you can; we will ask more questions if needed. 

Don’t guess or assume answers – if you really don’t know, then tell us that. 

Don’t withhold information – if you know who a suspect is but you don’t want to say, you could be seriously jeopardizing the safety of an officer.

Call volume in the 9-1-1 Communications Center fluctuates through the day. At any time, we can receive numerous high-priority calls, or perhaps several calls regarding a single incident. This may mean you receive a recorded message. Please, DO NOT hang up! Your call will be answered by the next available call taker.

If you mistakenly dial 9-1-1, please do not hang up before the 9-1-1 call taker answers the phone. The information from your phone still enters our system, and if you aren’t on the phone when the call taker answers, our policy is to send an officer to your location to ensure that you are safe. If you change your mind about needing assistance, stay on the line and explain that to the 9-1-1 call taker. The time spent calling people back who have inadvertently dialed 9-1-1 takes time away from people who need emergency help.

Here are some basic tips for calling 9-1-1. Reading these now may help you if an actual emergency occurs:

1.     Stay calm. Speak clearly. Emergency units (police, fire or ambulance) rely on the information you give to get to you as soon as possible and to be able to help you.

2.     Give your address or location and phone number.  Your address or location is vital information, and we cannot send help if we don’t know where you are.

3.     Quickly and briefly describe your problem. As soon as we know what you need, we will know who to send to help you (police car, ambulance or fire truck). Get to the point as soon as possible.

4.     Describe yourself and/or the suspect. Tell the 9-1-1 call taker where you are and what you look like, including what you are wearing. We want officers who are arriving on the scene to know who they can contact and that you are not a potential suspect. In appropriate situations you will be asked to describe the suspect including race and age.  These questions are not a determinant of whether or not a police officer will be sent but rather to provide the police officer information on what the suspect looks like. 

5.     Listen to the 9-1-1 call taker. Answer their questions and follow any instructions. Remain on the line until the 9-1-1 call taker says it is okay for you to hang up.

6.     Remember: Answering questions does NOT delay your help. At times the dispatcher is sending units while your calltaker gets additional information from you.

YOUR safety is our number one concern.


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.


Use caution with candlesBaltimoreCountyFire DepartmentDivision Chief Michael Robinson

“Tis the season!” for celebrations, decorating, cooking shopping and all else related to sharing the joys and festivities of the holidays.   This is also a time when we see an increase in fires and related accidents.

In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) from late November through January we typically see a spike in fires caused by Christmas trees, candles, lights and holiday cooking.   Over the last decade, these holiday-related fires have resulted in more than $1 billion in residential property losses and more than 200 lives lost. 

Your Baltimore County Fire Department urges you to take a few moments and consider some simple steps to assure your safety during this special time of the year.  Here are the top 10 tips that fire safety experts recommend you consider:

1.      Water your tree. If you choose a live Christmas tree, assure its freshness by making a fresh cut on the base of the tree before putting your tree into a sturdy stand.  Keep the needles moist by watering frequently (at least daily).

2.      Check your lights (maybe twice).   Be sure to use only outdoor lights outside.  Inspect all lights for fraying, damage and wear.  If wires are visible through the insulation, discard and replace the lights.  Look for cracked sockets and loose connections; if you find them, replace the string.  Never plug more than three strands of lights together; this may cause heating and failure of the wires. Also, use only lights from an approved laboratory, and look for a label such as UL (Underwriter’s labs) or FM (Factory mutual).  If no label, replace the lights.

3.      Plan your fire escape. This is a good time to make sure that you have two exits out of each room and to plan what you would do in the event of fire.  Be sure that you have working smoke detectors on each level and in each sleeping area of your home.

4.      Sleep safe; have a carbon monoxide detector. A CO detector should be on each floor of your home. Under Baltimore County law, CO detectors are required in all rental properties and in some owner-occupied homes. Place these near sleeping areas and test them regularly.

5.      Be “flame aware.” Maintain at least 3 feet of clearance of any materials around a fire place. That includes hanging Christmas stockings “by the chimney with care!”  Also do not leave candles unattended and teach your children to keep away from these and fireplaces.

6.      Clean up your wrapping paper. After opening wrapped gifts, take that paper and recycle it. Never burn it, as it may clog the chimney or spread fire as an ash.  Single- stream recycling in Baltimore County makes proper disposal of wrapping paper an easy task. 

7.      Check extension cords. Make sure that they are laboratory-approved, just like your lights.  Never staple, tape or run them under rugs.  Check the wattage rating, and don’t overload your electrical outlets.  If a circuit trips or a fuse blows, consider that is a warning that you are overloaded. Overloaded circuits pose a fire hazard!

8.      Christmas tree placement. Set up your tree away from fireplaces, vents and other heat sources.  The tree should also not block pathways or exits from a room.

9.      Decorate safely. Be careful in selecting tree ornaments that are glass or that have small pieces that can become choking hazards. When securing decorations, be careful not to tape, staple or tack them into wiring!

10.   Cook with caution. We tend to cook more and use more burners and stoves at once.  Watch for hot surfaces, overflowing pots/pans and never use a turkey deep fryer indoors.  These require a clear, open, outdoor area and are a frequent cause of fires. 

There are a variety of great online resources about holiday fire safety, including resources from the U.S. Fire Administration, and the National Fire Protection Administration,

The Baltimore County Fire Department wishes you a happy and safe holiday season!


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