Lt. Irvin Smith of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) spoke at our annual meeting on May 11, 2016, to explain the requirements of the relatively new Maryland smoke alarm law and provide professional advice on household safety. He said their goal was to prevent the need for 911 calls. Details of the smoke alarm law can be found on the MCFRS website: www.mcfrs.org/mcsafe. Homeowners have until January 1, 2018, to comply with the new law, and can obtain assistance in doing so by calling 311. The new law states smoke alarms:
- Must be located in every hallway, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the house, including basements.
- Are required in each bedroom in houses constructed after 1994. Families with children should be aware of studies the show some 95% of children sleep right through loud smoke alarms.
- Any battery-only smoke alarms must be replaced with new smoke alarms powered by 10-year, sealed-in batteries.
At least 40% of fire fatalities can be blamed on non-functioning smoke detectors. They have an average lifespan of 10 years before the sensors wear out (even those that are hard-wired) and should be replaced with new ones. The new hard-wire versions have backup batteries (that also last 10 years) to protect against power outages. All smoke alarms should be checked manually once a month by pushing the test button.
Lt. Smith listed the top causes of house fires in our area are fireplace and chimney fires, candles, cooking incidents, lightning, and, during summer months, barbecue grills, especially those using charcoal. He cautioned that the embers in fireplace ash and charcoal grills can take much longer than most people think to completely extinguish and often start fires when improperly disposed of or, outside, when a gust of wind blows them around.
He also discussed carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning as a frequent cause of death, advising homeowners to have CO detectors near gas appliances.
Lt. Smith was joined by Mr. Peter Piringer, Montgomery County Public Information Officer and MCFRS Chief Spokesperson, who helped answer some of the many questions raised by the audience and who noted that homeowners can obtain a free Home Safety Inspection by calling 311 or logging on to the www.mcfrs.org website. They also reminded everyone to check their fire extinguishers regularly and to supervise children around swimming pools.
Lt. Smith handed out “File of Life” cards (seen in the photograph) to be filled out for each person in a household, inserted in a red magnetic pouch, and placed on the refrigerator door. He noted that all emergency personnel are trained to look for these cards on refrigerators. These cards are to contain vital contact, medical and health insurance information on each individual so that if first responders find an unresponsive person during an emergency, they will be able to provide appropriate assistance expeditiously. These cards and their magnetic pouches can be obtained by calling Fire & Rescue Safety Education at 240-777-2430 or Aging and Disability Services at 240-777-3000.