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Vigilant Hose Company conducts a community fire safety blitz with assistance from American Red Cross and Community Partners
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By Member Wayne Powell
December 12, 2015

Home Fire Safety Visits / Smoke Alarm Checks follow in aftermath of 2 fires here

The community of greater Emmitsburg was rocked by 2 significant multi-family residential fires in less than a week’s time in early December. News of these events went nationwide in a matter of minutes. But, it’s not the fires themselves about which we wish to speak rather it’s the Red Cross support both during and then very much after the fires that should be of interest to everyone along the CRR Network. The fires were massively covered by media outlets from across the region.

For years, this community’s fire department has enjoyed great working relations with the Red Cross but this month’s experiences have been nothing short of amazing. Many others pitched in, too. The success of the Red Cross working alongside First Responders / Community Leaders and the others from around the community was amazing.

The VHC took advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ afforded by the tragedy with the great support of the American Red Cross of Western Maryland which made it all possible. VHC has for decades been a strong proponent of public fire education and all manner of prevention advocacies which our personnel are convinced allowed us to go well over 20 years without a fire death in our approximately 100 square mile response area of nearly 10,000 population.

At the end of the TV news clip cited below you can hear where the Red Cross plans to install 2 million smoke alarms nationally over the next 5 years which we salute and support. There’s also a newspaper article link below on the home visitation initiative, too.

The 2 significant fires occurred within 5 days of each other. The first was mid-afternoon on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015, in a commercial / residential building (apartments above) at Paul’s Pit Stop on South Seton Avenue next to the Carriage House Inn. The second fire the following Monday on West Main Street a few doors west of the Vigilant Hose Company (VHC) fire station unfortunately resulted in 2 civilian fatalities and one serious injury.

Organized following the 2nd fire was a Saturday, December12, 2015, Red Cross / First Responder Team approach to home fire safety visits / smoke alarm checks that led to 78 household visits and 217 smoke alarm installs. Both these numbers have grown with phone calls requesting other visits from VHC’s response area coming in steadily since. A total of 17 Teams were on the street in addition to Go-Team personnel at the station and in vehicles.

Personnel from the VHC and the Red Cross were assisted by Rugby Team students from nearby Mount Saint Mary’s University and even students in town attending classes at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC), too. NETC class members that helped were from California, Idaho, Colorado, South Carolina, Las Vegas, etc., who supplemented Red Cross volunteers and staff plus our own volunteer and career emergency services personnel (both locally and from the county level).

VHC members and these partners comprised the on-the-street ‘Safety Teams’ with a “Go-Team” standing by at the fire station deploying needed support including smoke alarm expertise (via a smoke alarm expert from the NETC/USFA staff), additional literature and more alarms as needed, plus handling other normal duties including fire calls, too (one such call came right at the beginning for a smoke alarm activation as the teams were heading out!).

Emmitsburg Mayor Don Briggs and his wife, Libby, served with different teams while fire vehicles canvassed areas as the various teams were going door to door. Both VHC President Tim Clarke and Chief Chad Umbel were quoted saying the Saturday event was a huge success with calls for home safety visits / smoke alarm checks expected to continue to come in. Elyssa Cool, VHC’s Fire Prevention Chair, coordinates the department’s follow up actions to those requests.

VHC has for many years carried alarms on every emergency vehicle to install them whenever possible plus routinely conducts safety presentations to any and all groups who allow us to do so. Despite years of VHC public fire education and year-round smoke alarm promotion, teams found a number of homes with no smoke alarms at all, many non-working units and others well over 10 years old plus as little as one alarm in homes with more than one sleeping levels.

One interesting aspect of smoke alarm install effort was the use of toilet plungers – used to lift alarms with double-stick tape applied up to ceilings which negated the need for step ladders, drills, tools, etc., plus allowed for covering more homes in the shortest possible time. Korri Faria of the Red Cross was the lead person for the event while NETC/USFA’s Sandy Facinoli, Mary Marchone, Lisa Makar and Larry McKenna provided important support leading up to and during the ‘blitz’ effort.

Following the door to door visitation effort, the VHC Auxiliary had a great meal prepared for all who helped which was well received. In addition to superb media coverage from around the region, the following sites may be of interest:

WHAG-TV News (video clip): “Following fatal fire in Emmitsburg, first responders install free smoke detectors /Firefighters install more than 200 smoke detectors in three hours” -

Frederick News-Post (newspaper article): “After back-to-back house fires, Emmitsburg focuses on prevention” -

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