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Baltimore County Now

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Keyword: fire safety

Important Tips from Safety Experts

This kind of cold weather is not just unpleasant, it can be dangerous. Baltimore County’s safety experts have some important tips for protecting your home and family.

graphic of dripping faucet

DPW Says Let Faucets Drip

Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works advises homeowners to let water taps drip during this week’s extreme cold weather. During single-digit temperatures last year, more than 500 water meters froze. Maintaining the flow with a slow drip, say County engineers, will usually keep water in the pipes from freezing, and save homeowners considerable grief.

Last February Baltimore City (which maintains and repairs the metropolitan water system) was swamped with requests to thaw frozen meters. With the County's help, water service was quickly restored. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  

Power Outage Precautions

Power outages can go side-by-side with winter storms. Lights go out and some lose heat. When this happens some of us turn to generators to keep warm and informed.

Generators produce carbon monoxide, CO, a deadly gas. Keep your generator at least 15 feet from the house or building. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding use and review the Fire Department’s safety tips for portable generators.

For those who have gas stoves and ovens, never use an oven to heat your home!

Ice Can be Dicey

Cold weather along with snow and ice can be dangerous. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to problems in the winter.

Beware of “black ice” when you leave your home or work. What appears to be a wet surface can be very slick ice. Be cautious and take your time walking on this winter treat. This warning applies to driving too! Many accidents occur when black ice forms.

Ice melting products should be kept near the door along with your shovel. And beware of steps and handrails; they can be treacherous if not wiped down and salted.

Don’t Overdo with the Shoveling

Anyone who has heart disease or chronic lung disease should not shovel snow or scrap ice. Shoveling is hard on the heart muscles and can cause a cardiac event. Ask a friend, neighbor or relative, or hire someone to clear the sidewalk and driveway.

Stay Warm and Dry

When venturing out in the cold, wear a hat or scarf, warm gloves or mittens, and warm, dry socks inside your boots. Wear a heavy coat, jacket or dress in layers. If the wind is blowing then wear a scarf across your face. Wind burn is hard on the skin just like sun burn. Wear sunscreen in the winter.

And last but not least, remember your pets. They feel the cold as much as you do and rely on you to keep them safe and warm.

Louise Rogers-Feher
Public Safety Office of Media and Communications


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!


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