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Keyword: fire department

By Lee Jolley, Chief Electrical Inspector
Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections

Though there are many new devices designed to make our home safer, we still see a lot of electrical house fires. In fact, faulty electrical distribution or lighting equipment is the third leading cause of home fires in the U.S., behind cooking and heating equipment.  

We all have electricity in our homes, and most of us aren’t licensed electricians. So we may not understand how electrical fires can start.

Most electrical fires are caused by:

  • Loose connections
  • Buildup and ignition of flammable dryer lint
  • Improper use of extension cords
  • Old appliances not approved by Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL)
  • Worn out or broken switches and receptacles
Electrical fire in a wall outlet.

The U.S. Fire Administration puts the number of residential electrical fires at about 26,000 each year. Electrical issues are a factor in about one in ten home fires and 18 percent of fire deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

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

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. Consider the use of UL-rated cords and the addition of surge- protected power strips.

Empty the dryer lint tray after each load. Lint is extremely flammable and can ignite from heat from the dryer.

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 devices depends on how often the device is used.

Usually, light switches should be changed at least every 10 years. 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; older switches were more solid and were actually capable of withstanding much more use than modern switches.

The safety of receptacles is a little bit easier to judge. When the plugs no longer fit firmly in the socket, it's time to replace the receptacle. When you replace receptacles, you must bring them up to current (2017) National Electrical Code. Most receptacles in dwellings are required to be tamper resistant and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter-protected (AFCI). When appliance cords become worn or when an appliance begins behaving badly, it's time to replace or repair it.

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.

If you see your lights continually dim and grow bright, there could be a loose connection. Contact your utility company.

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.

If you smell ozone or an unusual electrical smell, something electrical may be heating up. Find the source and turn it off. Call a licensed electrician.

If you observe smoke or sparking, call 911. Trained firefighters will respond.

It is always a good practice to make sure 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 (Underwriters Laboratory) or another recognized testing laboratory.

Never use unlicensed electrical contractors. Baltimore County licenses more than 4,900 electrical contractors who are qualified to serve you.

And of course, install properly working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The Baltimore County Fire Department offers a Smoke & CO Alarm Education Program that provides personalized guidance on preventing home fire and carbon monoxide incidents. You can request a visit from firefighters through the County web site:

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


Baltimore County Fire Chief Kyrle W. Preis III announced today he will retire on December 31, 2018 to begin a new career in the private sector. At the request of County Executive John Olszewski, Jr., he will serve for several months as a transition advisor to the County Executive.

Olszewski has named Assistant Chief Jennifer L. Aubert-Utz to serve as Acting Fire Chief beginning January 1, 2019.

“I want to express my sincere thanks to Chief Preis for his 28 years of service to the residents of Baltimore County,” Olszewski said. “He has provided valuable insight into Baltimore County’s Fire and EMS operations, and I want to thank him for continuing to assist us in the coming months as we work to build a better Baltimore County.”

Chief Preis, 52, informed County Executive Olszewski earlier this week of his decision to retire. He was appointed in 2017 by the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz; he replaced John J. Hohman, who retired after a long tenure as Fire Chief. A life member of the Kingsville Volunteer Fire Company, Chief Preis has served on numerous professional boards including the Maryland EMS Board, which oversees budgets for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, Shock Trauma, Maryland State Police Aviation Command and the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.

“I truly believe that the Baltimore County Fire Department has given me the most rewarding career one could have,” Chief Preis said.

Assistant Chief Aubert-Utz, 45, is an 18-year Baltimore County Fire Department veteran. She began as a Firefighter/EMT and has held every rank in the Department up to Assistant Chief. Aubert-Utz holds a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Management with a focus on public safety and leadership. She also earned the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer designation.

“In nearly two decades of service to Baltimore County, Assistant Chief Aubert-Utz has earned the respect of her colleagues and our residents,” Olszewski said. “She has the experience and talent to guide the Department through this transition, and I have great faith in her ability to lead the fire service.”

Officials Advise Residents to Plan for Possible Flooding and Power Outages

Although the current track of Hurricane Florence appears to be headed far south of our area, Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler and his top public safety and public health team gathered at Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Rescue and Marine this morning to advise residents to stay alert to possible changes and prepare in case of localized coastal and inland flooding or power outages from downed trees. The storm is expected to stall and produce heavy rains, which could lead to some inland and coastal flooding throughout the south and possibly in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“The Memorial Day weekend flooding in Catonsville, Ellicott City, Oella and Turner Station was an unwelcome reminder of our vulnerability, and that it doesn’t take a direct hit from a hurricane to ruin homes and businesses and cause prolonged power outages and possible loss of life,” Mohler said.

Mohler reminded residents to watch the County’s social media channels for storm-related updates. “Providing accurate, timely information to our citizens during an emergency is a top priority for us,” he said. “During storms and other emergencies, we push out frequent updates via Twitter @BaltCoemergency and on our Baltimore County Fire Department Facebook page.” Baltimore County emergency managers will continue to receive regular updates throughout this weather event and will provide updates on social media as needed.

“Living in eastern Baltimore County and along the waterfront myself, I am particularly grateful to all of our career and volunteer fire service, police officers and public works staff who stand ready to jump into action if necessary to protect people if this storm should cause problems,” said 6th District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins.

Fire and Public Works Crews are Prepared and Ready to Respond

The Baltimore County Fire Department and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management continue monitoring the storm and preparing to respond as needed. These preparations include:

  • Inspecting swiftwater and high-water rescue equipment; pumps and other apparatus.
  • Reviewing staffing and operational plans.
  • Preparing to open and staff the Emergency Operations Center, in case this becomes an emergency requiring a coordinated, multi-agency response.
  • Contacting our mutual aid partners in case we need additional resources.
  • Regular updates with National Weather Service regarding the forecast.

The Baltimore County Department of Public Works (DPW) has placed special emphasis this week on checking their equipment and clearing storm drain inlets to help reduce flooding potential. DPW warns that the saturated ground from recent rainy weather means that trees can be vulnerable to toppling from lighter winds than usual. County tree crews and contractors are ready to clear trees that may fall into roadways and the public right of way.

DPW asks residents to help by reporting any problems that may occur including blocked inlets and downed trees to the Bureau of Highways using the BaltCoGo mobile app. The app is offered free of charge to Android and iPhone users and may be downloaded from their respective app stores. Residents may also call the Bureau of Highways at 410-887-3560.

Flooded basement issues can be reported to 911, so they can be evaluated for fire risks on a case by case basis. The County asks homeowners take steps to prevent problems, or reduce their impact, by clearing downspouts and basement stairwells.

Preparation is Key for Residents

Every household should prepare for this and other possible weather emergencies, considering how thay will manage if the power goes out for an extended period. Steps to take now:

  • Locate and purchase supplies. You need non-perishable food, a manual can opener, medications, supplies for infants and vulnerable adults, pet supplies, flashlights/batteries and a battery-powered radio.
  • Buy or store extra water -- at least a gallon per person, per day, plus extra for pets.
  • Fully charge all your electric devices. If power goes out, use them sparingly to make them last as long as possible.
  • Get cash. ATMs will not work during a power outage.
  • Secure boats and outdoor furniture.
  • Plan where you will evacuate if you live in a flood-prone area and need to move to higher ground.
  • Assist vulnerable family and neighbors with storm preparations. This is critical; many vulnerable people, including older people cannot prepare by themselves.
  • Stay informed about the track of this storm. Follow weather forecasts and our social media posts, @BaltCoEmergency on Twitter and @BaltCoFire on Facebook.

Revised October 16, 2020               
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