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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Colder Weather Home Fire Safety Tips


The National Weather Service is predicting an arctic blast of cold air to reduce temperatures below freezing for a Friday and most of next week.  It is no secret that firefighters fight more home fires in colder weather as compared to warm.  Typically, the cause of home fires during periods of cold weather are caused by residents trying to stay warm and kitchen fires.  Remember; Stay Informed, Stay Ready, Stay Safe.

The Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department (PGFD) is reminding everyone that home fires are more prevalent in cold weather than in any other time of the year. This is due in part to an increase in cooking and heating fires.  Winter storms can interrupt electrical service and cause people to turn to alternative heating sources which also contribute to the increased risk of fire in winter.  This reminder involves the safe use of space heaters and general heating safety tips.

The PGFD want to remind everyone that fire safety and prevention are especially important during times of cold temperatures.  “Temperatures drop and fires increase,” said Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor.  According to NFPA statistics space heaters account for about one third of the home heating fires yet more than 80 percent of the home heating fire deaths. 

The Winter Residential Building Fires report released by USFA in 2010, reports an estimated 108,400 winter residential building fires occur annually in the United States, resulting in an estimated average of 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries, and $1.7 billion in property loss.  

Cooking and heating are the top causes of fires during cold weather. 

“The winter season brings the highest number of home fires than any other time of year,” said Fire Chief Bashoor. “Each winter season, home fires increase in part due to cooking and heating fires. Fire safety and injury prevention must not be lost in an effort to stay warm. Stay warm and do so safely.  Safety First ensures everyone goes home.” 

The men and women, career, civilian and volunteer, of the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department recommend the following safety tips for space heaters. 

Electric Space Heaters

• Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).


• Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.

• Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater. 

 • Space heaters need space; keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.

• Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use. 

  Turn off at night or whenever you sleep. - - Never use an extension cord with space heaters - plug directly into wall socket.

Using a kerosene heater???  Never refuel indoors.  Remove the kerosene heater outdoors, turn off and wait for it to cool down before refueling and only use the correct type of fuel.

General Heating Tips     

  • Furnaces, fireplaces and chimneys should be cleaned and checked each year by an appropriate professional prior to using.  Clear away any clutter from these heating devices, at least 3 feet away.
  • Only use seasoned wood in fireplaces and never use ignitable liquids to start a fire.
  • The 3-foot rule also applies to furnaces and fireplaces.  No combustibles items within 3 feet of these heating appliances.
  • Dispose of fireplace ash into a metal container and store outdoors away from structures on a concrete surface.  Fireplace ash can ignite a fire days after they have been discarded.

Finally, ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are working by pushing the test button on the front cover.  If you do not hear an audible warning, replace your alarm with a new 10-year, tamper proof, with hush feature alarm.  Having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. A working CO detector will protect you and your family from deadly "silent killer" fumes that may be building up in your home.  Remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family. 

Residents of Prince George’s County can contact our "Safety First" smoke alarm program at 301-864-SAFE (7233).  A firefighter will install a working smoke alarm in your home free of charge. 

For additional information from the USFA on Winter Fire Safety; click here.usfire.gov

Preventing Hypothermia: A Dangerous Health Condition

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930
mebrady@co.pg.md.us     @PGFDPIO

The weather forecast for our area includes some winter weather followed by frigid temperatures with wind chills dropping into single digits.  The men and women of the Fire/EMS Department want you to stay safe and healthy and offer the following tips.

The Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department in conjunction with the County Health Department wants residents to be aware of the impact that over exposure to cold weather can have on your health during the winter months. Hypothermia and frostbite are two fairly common conditions that typically affect people at this time of year and residents should take precautions in order to ensure that they keep themselves and family members safe and warm. 

We want to remind residents to dress in layers, wear mittens versus gloves and to cover your head when outside for significant periods of time. These are just a few of the simple ways to prevent illness that may result from extreme cold weather conditions. When exposed to cold weather, our bodies lose heat faster than it can be produced which could result in bodily injury, illness, and even death.

As part of our "Neighbor Helping Neighbor' program the Fire/EMS Department asks all residents to check on your elderly relatives and neighbors to ensure they have adequate heat and protection from the cold.

Hypothermia is one of the serious health problems that can be caused by exposure during cold weather. If a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees, immediately seek medical attention.  

In mild cases the symptoms include:

• Uncontrollable shivering

• Pale and cold skin

Other more serious signs include:

• Confusion or sleepiness

• Slurred speech

• Shallow breathing

• Weak pulse

• Stiffness in the arms or legs

• Or, poor control over body movements

In the case of serious symptoms, contact the victim’s doctor or call 911.

In either case, until help arrives or the person is seen by a doctor, move the person to a warm room, warm the body with dry layers of blankets or clothing, and give warm beverages.

Frostbite refers to actual freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue which is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32F. The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.

Individual at risk for frostbite include those with impaired circulation, the elderly, the very young and anyone who remains outside for prolonged periods. The danger increases if the individual becomes wet.

Symptoms of frostbite include:

• Gradual numbness;

• Hardness and paleness of the affected area during exposure,

• Pain and tingling or burning in affected area following warming; and

• Possible change of skin color to purple


Follow these tips to weather the winter in a healthy way:

• Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.

• Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. The air between the layers acts as insulation to keep you warmer.

• Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from direct, extremely cold air. Cover your ears and lower part of your face as well.

• Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The close contact of fingers helps to keep your hands warm.

• Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of lightweight socks.

• Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.

On a related note, The Prince George's County Hypothermia/Homeless Hotline 
can be contacted at: 888-731-0999.

Prevent Frozen Sprinkler Pipes Now

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930

mebrady@co.pg.md.us     @PGFDPIO
Prince George’s County homes constructed since the early 1990’s have a residential sprinkler system installed to save lives and protect property.  Therefore there are a large number of single family homes, in addition to commercial buildings and multi-family dwellings, that are equipped with these life-saving systems.  The Fire/EMS Department has documented hundreds of incidents since the law changed requiring residential sprinklers that demonstrate that lives have been saved and damage to property limited when fires have occurred.  Prince George’s County was the first County in the Nation to require the installation of residential sprinklers in all new home construction.

Home, apartment, condos and commercial building owners and management companies should take the time now to ensure that sprinkler systems are adequately protected against pipes freezing.  During long periods of below freezing temperatures exposed water-filled sprinkler pipes can freeze expanding the pipe to the point when it will break. Sprinkler pipes tend to freeze before other water pipes because the water is not moving. Most sprinkler systems are wet systems that contain water all the time.

When water freezes inside a sprinkler pipe, it creates an obstruction that can render the sprinkler system useless in the event of a fire. As the ice expands, it increases the internal water pressure in the pipe and causes the pipe to burst. Interestingly, the burst is often in a section of pipe that did not actually freeze.

Alternatively, the expanding ice can cause a pipe, fitting or sprinkler head to crack but the ice will block the flow of water while it is solid. In this case, the actual water damage will not be apparent until the ice melts and water flows out of the burst section.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

The best way to protect a residential fire sprinkler system from freezing is to provide sufficient insulation and maintain adequate heat during the winter months.   Insulation helps block the flow of heat or cold from one space to the next. Most sprinkler pipes are within the walls or ceilings of a home. Cold air can enter these concealed spaces through small gaps in the exterior sheathing and insulation and find its way into pipe chases and soffits that focus the air directly onto the sprinkler piping and accelerate freezing.

In attics, piping should be as close to the ceiling as possible with insulation placed over the sprinkler pipe.  If you inspect your sprinkler pipes that are in the attic and you can see exposed pipes; they need to be insulated immediately to prevent freezing.

When sprinklers are required in unheated spaces such as attics or crawl spaces, the use of a dry system, or special dry sprinkler heads are required.

If a sprinkler pipe bursts ensure that the location of the water shut-off valve is known and the proper method to turn it off.  Contact a residential sprinkler professional immediately to initiate repairs.  It is recommended that a sprinkler system is tested and inspected on a periodic basis to ensure it is in proper working order to prevent against rupture and flooding.

Fire Investigators Close 3 Incidents of Arson with Arrests

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930
mebrady@co.pg.md.us     @PGFDPIO

Prince George's County Fire Investigators had a busy News Years Eve and Day investigating three separate incidents of Arson and associated crimes.  Each incident was closed with an arrest.  The three incidents occurred in Clinton, Temple Hills and Berwyn Heights on December 31, 2013 and January 1, 2014.  All 3 incidents are not related to each other.

On December 31, 2013, Jasmine Rebecca Swanson, DOB 7-11-1959, of Clinton, is alleged to have threatened to set her husband on fire.  There was minimal damage to the home interior in her attempt to follow through with her threat.  The incident occurred at a single family home in the 12200 block of Broken Lance Court in Clinton.

Fire Investigators charged Swanson with 1st Degree Arson, 2nd Degree Arson, Reckless Endangerment and Attempted 1st Degree Murder.  A warrant was issued and she was arrested on January 1, 2014.  She was remanded to the Department of Corrections and being held on $100,000 bond.  To view the current District Court status, click here.

Also on December 31, 2013, Donnell Kenneth Townsend, DOB 4-14-1970, of Temple Hills, is alleged to have committed Arson and Burglary in the 6500 block of Beechwood Drive, Temple Hills.

On January 1, 2014, a warrant was issued and Townsend was charged with 1st and 2nd Degree Arson and Burglary in the 1st and 4th Degree.  He was arrested and remanded to the Department of Corrections on a $100,000 bond.  To view the current District Court status, click here.

Early morning January 1, 2014, Simona Hilda Guzman-Rodriguez, DOB 12-15-1994, of Berwyn Heights, is alleged to have set a pile of clothes on fire inside of a single family home in the 5700 block of Quebec Street in Berwyn Heights.  She was arrested at the scene and charged with 1st and 2nd Degree Arson, 2nd Degree Malicious Burning and Reckless Endangerment.  She was remanded to the Department of Corrections on a $100,000 bond.  To view the current District Court status, click here.

Fire Related Charges - Maximum Penalty if found Guilty

1st Degree Arson - Felony - up to 30 years in jail.
2nd Degree Arson - Felony - up to 20 years in jail.
2nd Degree Malicious Burning - Misdemeanor - up to 18 months in jail.
Reckless Endangerment - Misdemeanor - up to 5 years in jail.