After the latest fatal house fire incident claimed the life of a father and three children, Prince George’s County fire officials are speeding up new campaigns to stress fire safety importance by increasing smoke detector use and establishing family emergency escape plans.
The Feb. 21 Glenarden incident brought this year’s fire fatalities to nine, one shy of last year’s total of 10.
Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said the programs were scheduled to roll out in April, but the Glenarden tragedy and recent Bowie house fires provided incentive to release the plans ahead of schedule especially after investigators determined the Glenarden home was without smoke detectors.
The “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” program calls on all fire personnel to check for working smoke alarms whenever they respond to a home for a 911 calls. Homeowners are also asked to check for working smoke detectors in their neighbors’ and family members’ homes.
“The fire department cannot do this alone,” Bashoor said.
Nearly 50 percent of Prince George’s County homes do not have working smoke alarms, Bashoor said judging by the fire department’s assessment.
“Safety First Day of the Month” is an expansion of an existing program that tasks all 45 county fire stations with going door-to-door in various neighborhoods the first of each month to check for working smoke alarms and to distribute fire safety information. Previously, the effort reminded residents via social networks and press releases.
Additionally, the fire stations will promote an open door policy to their station from 6 to 8 p.m. every first day of every month for residents to sign up for smoke alarm installation.
Gayle Law, 56, a Bowie resident living on Peachtree Lane where a home caught fire Feb. 19, said she was grateful that firefighters walked through her neighborhood Friday and made sure her smoke detectors were working.
“I’m very glad to see them here,” she said. “That fire was devastating. Passing it every day is a reminder that you have to pay attention in your own home. Until last week, I never thought about it before.”
She said firefighters convinced her to purchase an escape ladder that her family can use from the second-story of her home in the event of a fire.
Another program — “Safety First Week of the Month” — asks residents to change the batteries in their smoke detectors whenever they change the times on their clocks for daylight savings in March and November, in addition to September to add a third time throughout the year.
Fire officials said they also plan to incorporate a contest with county elementary school students where they become honorary fire safety inspectors by developing a fire evacuation plan for their homes.
Shawn Croissette, a firefighter who responded to the fatal Glenarden house fire, said the surviving daughter, an 8-year-old, said she used the escape plan firefighters and teachers taught her in school. He said hearing about her fire safety education has put an emphasis on the county to launch a school system-wide fire safety plan contest for elementary schools.
“Teach your kids fire safety,” he said. “It gets through to them a lot more than people believe.”
The spike in fire fatalities raises concerns for the fire department, said Bashoor, but he noted that every year fluctuates. There were 10 in 2012 and 15 in 2011.
Bashoor stressed the need for more county homes to have working smoke alarms, a state law established in 2010.
“Every incident is an opportunity to promote smoke alarms,” Bashoor said. “It is a painfully tragic, ever-constant reminder of the need for our fire department to continually reach out to our communities.”
To request a free smoke alarm, county residents can call 301-864-SAFE.