Baltimore County Now
BaltimoreCountyFire 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.
The Baltimore County Fire Department wishes you a happy and safe holiday season!
Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman
In my 35 years in the Fire Service, I’ve seen how advances in technology, equipment and building codes have saved lives. One of the most important advances is one of the most humble: the small, inexpensive carbon monoxide detector.
Here in Baltimore County, the Fire Department responds to a growing number of calls involving carbon monoxide (CO) gas – and that is a good thing. Why? Because the calls are generated by CO detectors that are alerting residents to a potentially deadly problem before it becomes deadly.
In recent years and following a number of CO tragedies, Baltimore County enacted legislation requiring CO detectors in all rental housing and in some owner-occupied residences. During November, fire crews responded to 50 CO calls – none of them involving serious injury.
I can’t overestimate how dangerous CO – which kills by robbing oxygen from the blood – is. Carbon monoxide is produced during the burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas, coal, propane, wood. If your home includes an appliance that runs off of one of these fuels, CO is an issue for you. The causes of CO buildup are varied, everything from malfunctioning gas stoves to a blocked fireplace flue.
CO calls tend to increase during periods of extreme heat or cold, when houses are closed up tightly and appliances are running. Landlords and homeowners who have invested in energy saving enhancements – new windows, for example – should know that one downside to such energy efficiency is that it limits the air flow that helps dilute CO when a leak occurs.
In such homes, the deadly gas has nothing to do but build up – and because of its unique characteristics victims can be overcome without ever knowing what happened. You can’t see or smell CO, and the early symptoms – headache, nausea, aches – are so commonplace that people have no idea they’re being poisoned.
People ask, “What is the acceptable level of carbon monoxide?” The answer is that CO is not acceptable, certainly not over a long period of time. At low levels, it will make you sicker and sicker the longer you’re exposed to it. At high levels, it can kill within hours.
This is why the CO detector is so important. It tells you the gas is there. The detector sounds an alarm when the gas reaches 35 parts per million. This is a level low enough not to make you sick – at least not at first – but high enough to tell you something’s wrong.
Your alarm doesn’t do you any good if you rob the batteries or ignore it when it goes off. If it sounds, call 911 and get out of the house. Here’s what you can expect, once fire crews arrive:
- Firefighters will use special gas meters to measure the level of CO.
- Crews will attempt to identify the source of the CO.
- Crews will ventilate the house, mitigating the hazard by diluting the gas with fresh air.
- Firefighters will not attempt to repair heating units, water heaters, fireplaces and other fuel-burning appliances. Such repairs are the property owner’s responsibility.
- Firefighters will shut down and advise the residents not to use any appliance they believe is causing the problem.
- If you live in a rental property and the level of CO is 50 parts per million or more, firefighters will contact the Office of Permits, Approvals and Inspections. The building inspector will visit the site at a later date to certify that the problem has been repaired by a licensed expert.
Along with installation of detectors, basic home maintenance – cleaning your chimney and fireplace regularly, checking gas-fueled appliance connections on a regular basis – is essential to preventing problems with CO.
If you rent your home or apartment, ask your landlord if the building uses fossil fuel-burning appliances and make sure the property owner has complied with the law requiring CO alarms. If the answer is no, contact the Office of Permits, Approvals and Inspections at 410-887-6060.
Carbon monoxide alarms are inexpensive, easy to install, readily available and effective. There is no reason why any of us should fall prey to this particular hazard any longer.
By Susan Hunt
Baltimore County Office of Public Safety Media & Communications
Yes, firefighters do occasionally rescue cats stuck in trees, horses stuck in mud, dogs trapped in burning buildings … and, recently, a great blue heron tangled in a kite string.
Sometimes, even the most experienced rescue workers face situations not covered at the Fire-Rescue Academy. That’s what happened on Sunday, April 29, when Halethorpe’s Truck 5, under the command of Lt. Stephen Sindler, was dispatched to assist the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department with a rescue involving a great blue heron dangling by its wing from a kite string suspended between two 60-foot trees. The string had wrapped itself several times around the bird’s wing.
Now, the long-legged blue heron – almost as much a state bird as the Baltimore oriole – weighs about seven pounds and stands 4.5 feet tall with a wingspan of nearly 6.5 feet. One of the tricky things about trying to save them is that they are carnivores who kill their prey by impaling them with their blade-like beaks. This was no standard fluffy kitten rescue.
Carefully, Truck 5’s crew extended the aerial ladder between the trees. Probationary Firefighter David Hepner climbed the ladder, and – assisted by the DNR officer on the ground – pulled the string and the bird towards him. Following the DNR officer’s instructions, PFF Hepner grabbed hold of the bird, cut the string, disentangled the bird and carried the patient to the ground. Crews turned the heron over to Baltimore County Animal Control officers.
The story has a happy ending. Animal Control personnel transferred the bird to the Phoenix Wildlife Center, which treated its injuries and a few days later released it back into the wild.