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Baltimore County Now

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Keyword: fire safety

photo of overloaded outletEd Riesner
Chief Electrical Inspector

We often hear in the aftermath of a house fire that the cause of the fire was electrical. Since we all have electricity in our homes it’s easy to we feel vulnerable and helpless if you don’t understand how electrical fires get started.

Most electric fires are caused by loose connections, dryer lint, improper use of extension cords, old, non UL approved appliances, or worn out and broken switches and receptacles. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are more than 26,000 residential fires each year linked to electrical problems. In 2012, 8.3% of fatal residential fires were due to electrical malfunctions.

A little knowledge and some diligence on your part can prevent most fires in your home.

1)    Empty the dryer lint tray after each load. Lint is extremely flammable and can be ignited by the heat from the dryer.

2)    Never use extension cords as a permanent wiring method. The wires in a cord are significantly smaller than the wiring in your walls and, over time will heat up and catch fire. Also consider the use of UL rated cords and the addition of surge protected power strips.

3)    Old appliances, switches, and receptacles should be replaced periodically.* They wear out and the connections inside separate slightly. When this happens, the electricity has to jump through the air to make the connection heating the air around the connection and starting a fire.

How often to change them depends on how often the device is used. Usually, light switches should be changed every 10 years at the latest. They crack internally and dry out. You can't see the problem so it's impossible to know that it needs to be changed. Use your best judgment with switches - the older switches were more solid and actually able to withstand much more that modern switches. Receptacles are a little bit easier. When the plugs no longer fit firmly in the socket it's time to replace the receptacle. When appliance cords become worn or the appliance begins behaving badly, it's time to replace or repair it.

4)    If you have aluminum wiring in your home always have a licensed electrician make any repairs. Improper connections, or connection to devices that are not designed for aluminum wiring can start a fire.

5)    If you observe your lights continually dim then grow bright, this could be a loose connection. Contact your utility company.

6)    If you hear a sizzling noise coming from a switch or appliance; Find the circuit breaker for that circuit and turn it off. Contact a licensed electrician to check the circuit.

7)    If you smell ozone, or an unusual electrical smell, this means that something electrical is heating up. Find the source and turn it off. Call a licensed electrician.

8)    If you observe smoke or sparking contact the Fire Department.

It is always a good practice to make sure that the circuits in the breaker box are properly identified. This will help you find the source of a circuit quickly if you have an emergency.

Always check to make sure any appliance you purchase is approved by UL or some other recognized testing laboratory.

Never use unlicensed electrical contractors. Baltimore County licenses over 4400 electrical contractors who are qualified to serve you.

If you have any questions or concerns you may call 410 887-3960 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Louise Rogers-Feher
Public Safety Information Specialist

Carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly. A byproduct of any combustible fuel, CO is tasteless, odorless and colorless. Death from CO poisoning can happen in a matter of hours.

The most recent national data shows a mortality rate of 430 deaths per year. At least 15,000 people are sent to the emergency room every year because of CO. It doesn’t have to happen.

CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). The higher the ppm level, the greater danger and the less time it will take to become seriously ill – or die.

The longer a person is exposed to CO, the greater the chance for serious illness or death.

At 200 ppm, a patient will experience mild headache, fatigue, nausea and dizziness after two to three hours. As the ppm rise, the symptoms intensify.

At 800 ppm, a patient will experience convulsions after 45 minutes and may become unconscious and die within two to three hours.

Death by carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable.

What precautions should you take?

  • Install CO detectors in your home. The CO alarm saves lives by letting you know you have a CO problem.
  • Place one near sleeping areas and one in the living areas.
  • Test CO alarms once a month.
  • CO alarms have two sounds. One sound is the alarm and the other sound means the battery is low. Test them to know the difference.
  • If the battery is low, replace it.
  • If the alarm sounds, leave immediately and get outside to the fresh air. Call 911 from a fresh air location. DO NOT open the windows or doors other than your exit door. Fire fighters will need to take a reading of the CO levels to determine the source of the leak.
  • CO detectors are sold in national chain stores and hardware stores.
  • Keep generators at least 15 feet from doors and windows.
  • Never use gas or charcoal grills inside the home.Don’t use gas ovens to heat the house.
  • Check gas appliances regularly as they can be a source for CO leaks.
  • Never leave your vehicle running in the garage even if the car tailpipe is facing out of the garage. Take the vehicle outside.
  • In the event of snow, clear tailpipes on all vehicles.
  • Clear snow from dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace vents. During a major snowstorm, you’ll probably need to do this a few times.
  • Leave the fireplace vent open after putting out the fire. You may close the glass doors, but not the vent. Hot embers produce CO if air is cut off. If you must close the vent, place the embers and ashes in a metal container; place it outside, away from the house.

Stay safe – get a CO alarm!


Natalie Litofsky, Public Safety Office of Media and Communications

photo of house in winterIf you’re planning to take a vacation this holiday season, it’s important for you to add home security to your travel safety checklist. There are simple precautions you can take to keep your home protected from both theft and damage. Just a few extra minutes spent securing your home will help give you the peace of mind to enjoy your trip.

Lock all doors and windows

While most people remember to lock the main door of the home, it’s important to check all the entry points to the house. This includes sliding doors, basement doors, and the interior door that leads to the garage. It’s also essential to lock the windows on each level of your home, not just the ground floor.

Turn off electronics

To help save on energy costs and avoid potential hazards, turn off and unplug small electronics while you’re away. Examples would be items such as a toaster, coffee maker, hair dryer or fan. Larger electronics such as computers and televisions should be plugged into a surge protector in case of sudden power loss.

Water and heat

If you live in an area where pipes are likely to freeze, it’s important to make sure your furnace stays running while you’re away. Most programmable thermostats have a “vacation mode” that will keep your home above freezing while still conserving energy. If you plan to be away for an extended period of time, you may want to consider turning off the water supply from outside your home and draining the pipes.

Perform a maintenance check

Check to be sure there are fresh batteries in your smoke detectors. Make sure that exterior lights have working bulbs to keep the property illuminated at night, and use a timer to turn them on and off. You should also prepare for the possibility of snow while you’re on vacation. Arrange for someone to shovel your walkways and driveway while you’re out of town. Not only is this important for the safety of your neighbors, but it also prevents would-be burglars from knowing the home is not occupied.

Notify a neighbor

Tell a trusted neighbor the dates you’re leaving and returning home. If they know you’re out of town, they’ll be more likely to notice and report suspicious activity. If you’ll be away for more than a day, ask if they’re willing to collect your mail and newspapers. A pile of unclaimed mail is a red flag for would-be thieves that nobody is home. If there is no one available to collect your mail, you can also speak with the post office about stopping mail delivery for the duration of your trip.

Don’t broadcast your location

Social media sites are great ways to keep in touch with friends and family, but they’re also great tools for burglars to use in choosing targets. Don’t post photos or statements that would let someone know that you’re away from home. You should also refrain from using a location “check-in” app that places you out of town. If you want to keep in touch with a friend or family member while you’re away, do so using a more private form of communication such as an email or text message.


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